News / Middle East

Tunisians Fear Democracy Transition Stalling

Lisa Bryant
Almost a year after Tunisia held its first free elections, many fear the North African country's transition to a vibrant democracy has stalled. The economy is struggling, the government is divided, and Tunisians are locked in intensive debates about their future.

After a tumultuous 2011, things are getting back to normal. As the evening falls, Tunis residents gather in cafes to drink tea and maybe smoke a water pipe.

On the main Habib Bourguiba Avenue, coils of barbed wire and the occasional tank spark memories of last year's revolution - a revolution that triggered the wider Arab uprising.

Looking forward

Many here are worried about the future. Among them: architecture student Miriam Kricha, 19, who is strolling down Habib Bourguiba with her boyfriend.

Kricha says she's worried about finding work, even with a university diploma. She believes it will be especially difficult as a woman. 

Young people aren't the only ones looking for jobs. Former minister and diplomat Hatem Ben Salem says the government has sidelined a cadre of experienced civil servants from the old regime.

"They wanted to build Tunisia, to build a state, to develop the country. And they are here, looking at what is happening, and they are excluded," Ben Salem says, adding that what is happening in Tunisia is worrying.

Economy

The economy is struggling to get back on its feet. Tourists are back, but not in the droves of pre-revolutionary days and Tunisians complain that basic services and security have eroded.

Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party, says despite its problems Tunisia is moving forward both economically and politically.

But Ghannouchi acknowledges that Tunisia is experiencing a very difficult democratic transition. After half a century of dictatorship, Tunisians are learning how to balance freedom and order.

Striking that balance isn't easy. Along with economic problems, there are enormous political and religious tensions.

Today, Arab Policy Institute head Fares Mabrouk says, a negotiations are underway over the role of government, civil society and human rights.

"Actually, it's a negotiation about what type of democracy we want. We have to create something new, something that does not exist. We don't have a reference," explains Mabrouk.

Islam's role

The role of Islam is among the biggest issues being debated in this young democracy. Rights advocates worry that conservative interpretations of the Muslim religion will roll back free expression and women's rights.

Extremist Islam is one of the biggest worries. Salafists are increasingly visible, not only on the streets but in politics.

Mokhtar Trifi is a senior member of the Tunisian League of Human Rights. Little by little, Trifi says, extremists are trying to impose an aggressive form of Islam. Sometimes through violence, sometimes through fear.

But Ghannouchi says Salafists have the right to air their views and form political associations - so long as they don't break the law. Free expression, he says, is one of the victories of the revolution.

Tunisia's transition to democracy is taking longer than many anticipated. There are growing doubts that parliament will complete the new constitution by its October deadline. Or that elections will be held early next year, as was hoped.

But hope is still something Tunisians like Mohamed Aouani believe in.

Aouani says completing the revolution will take time. And people here appear willing to wait for a better future.

You May Like

Russia Names US NGO 'Undesirable'

Prosecutors determine activities of National Endowment for Democracy to be 'undesirable,' paving the way for it to be outlawed on Russian territory More

Erdogan Vows 'Anti-Terror' Campaign in Syria, Iraq

Erdogan expressed confidence the 'necessary steps' will be taken by NATO leaders, who will meet Tuesday at Turkey's request More

North Korea: 'No Interest at All' in Nuke Deal

Senior US envoy Sydney Seiler visits Beijing Tuesday for talks on how to revive the stalled six-party nuclear talks with North Korea More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs