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No reason to celebrate in Tunisia

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23rd October marked the first anniversary of free and democratic elections in Tunisia. However, dissatisfaction over the slow pace of reform and the crackdown on human rights soured plans to celebrate.

Meriem Dhaouadi
29 October 2012

23rd October marked the anniversary of the first democratic and transparent election in the history of Tunisia. Tunisians turned out in long lines last year to participate in the democratization of the country by electing their representatives in the Constituent Assembly and to draft the new constitution. One year later, the optimism and passion that drove Tunisians to the polls in massive numbers has faded away and the anniversary of the first post-revolution elections are just another sad day.

The dissatisfaction over the slow pace of implementing the goals of the revolution ‘employment, freedom and national dignity’, the political tensions, the crackdown on human rights and theincrease of violence in the once moderate and now less peaceful country has soured many Tunisians from displaying any kind of festivities on Tuesday. After all, an opposition figure from the Call of Tunisia Party (Nida Tunis) was murdered just a few days earlier.

The Constituent Assembly was supposed to hand over the new constitution by Tuesday; the Troika government appointed by the Constituent assembly was supposed to dissolve on the same day, but neither of these two bodies were willing to abide by the initial agreements, clinging to power on the pretext of preventing chaos.

 In the words of ANC President Mustapha Ben Jaafar: “If we leave, Tunisia will hit the wall.” The propaganda machine of the government did not miss the chance to rally outside the Constituent Assembly building holding banners and placards that applauded the success of the troika government.

Despite the government’s generous promises of reform and development programs, the people of Tunisia and especially those who live in the interior regions, where even basic facilities such as electricity and running water are not available, protested in the hopes that the government might translate their long-delayed promises into tangible actions which will bring social justice to Tunisia. The cost of living has increased dramatically and the middle class has faced the deterioration of economic conditions in Tunisia. Eid al-Adha was just another occasion for ordinary citizens to feel the unbearable rise in prices in Tunisia. Lower income families would wander the sheep markets and go back home empty handed, one sheep could  cost the whole salary of an average Tunisian household.

Beyond the economic hardships that the troika government failed to address, the political divisions have created a climate of suffocating violence on the Tunisian political scene. The absence of dialogue between the different political factions has translated in fierce verbal and even physical clashes between the opposition and the government loyalists. The UGTT, Tunisia‘s main Labor union’s initiative to bring to the table of dialogue representatives of major political parties and decision makers did not achieve effective national dialogue since two key parties in the troika government (Ennahda party and the Congress for the republic) boycotted the event due to the presence of the recently created political party Nida Tounes who led the former interim government Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi.  

Human Rights Watch has accused the government of failing to protect journalists and artists from extremist groups’ intimidation and attacks. Amnesty international also warned of the reloading of dictatorship and the threat to freedom of speech posed by a government that has proven unwilling to protect journalists, artists and bloggers from intimidation of some extremist groups. "Protesters, who have continued to take to the streets in different parts of Tunisia to express their dissatisfaction with the slow pace of reform, have been met with unnecessary and excessive force," Amnesty said.

Democracy is not just about holding fair and transparent elections. The elected leaders who came to power through the ballot box must be the government of the Tunisian people and not some of the people. The decision makers in power who were the victims of the Ben Ali era of torture and prosecution because of their political dissent must not turn out to the perpetrators of today.

The mentality of victimhood that the government is depending on to justify their failure in addressing the national issues (blaming the remnants of the old regime, accusing the opposition of malicious plans) is further complicating matters in Tunisia. Tunisians were manipulated by the former regime to accept for instance stability over larger scopes of freedoms but now that the Tunisian people have tasted the sense of what it means to be a citizen with rights and obligations will never lose those gains easily.

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