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The power of a blank page

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There is a palpable dissatisfaction towards both the Tunisian Government and the National Constitutional Assembly: protests, marches, sit-ins, campaigns etc.

Kacem Jlidi
2 September 2012

It was named the Dignity Revolution, an intensive Tunisian campaign of civil resistance sparked almost two years ago, calling for employment, freedom, dignity and ending corruption.  

338 deaths and 2147 wounded are the results of the uprising, according to the National Fact-Finding Commission report, published earlier in May this year. But the report does not count those jailed, tortured and or killed during the 23 long years of the Ben Ali regime.

Huge sacrifices were made in the hope that this would lead to a thorough democratization of the country. Free and democratic elections took place: a vast majority of the people who voted for the ruling coaling were hoping that the corrupt old machinery would be repaired. They  expected measures to be swiftly taken, since the leading party is one that fears and praises God.

Yet violence, price rises, money smuggling, accusations, distractions from real demands in the relentless foregrounding of religious issues like ‘polygamy’, is what afflicts today’s Tunisia.  

The unemployment rate reached 18.1% in the first quarter of 2012 according to the results of the Labour Force survey compared with 13% in 2010. Over the past 7 months, the Household Consumption Price Index (CPI) has dramatically increased to 5.5% compared to 1.1% between October 2010 and October 2011, according to the Tunisian National Institute of Statistics.

These are a couple of measurable indicators among many others showing the deterioration of the economy in the country that sparked the oft-referred-to ‘Arab Spring’.

There is a palpable dissatisfaction towards both the Government and the National Constitutional Assembly: protests, marches, sit-ins, campaigns etc. However, the one that grabbed my attention is a creative campaign carried out by a youth-led group, ‘Sawty’ (my Voice), an organization that seeks to promote democracy and encourage young people to take up their citizenship, continuing the demand for the Tunisians’ most pressing revolutionary goal beside employment: a new Constitution.

The campaign was simple and effective: distributing booklets near downtown Tunis. The cover stated, ‘The Tunisian Constitution’. However, all the inside pages were actually blank. On the back cover it is written: ‘The draft of Tunisia’s new constitution should have been completed by July 15th, 2012 but we are still waiting. The constitution is late, so we must ask for it.’

Speaking to Tunisia Live, 25 year old Ali Bouzwida, who is the ‘Sawty’ Project Coordinator, said ‘the idea came about when the Constitution proved not to be ready on the date Mustafa Ben Jaafer, Head of the National Constituent Assembly, announced that it would be’.

‘We tried to think of something that would sensitise people to this issue, something innovative. Instead of marches, protests, we wanted something clear that would trigger fruitful debate;’ Added Ali.

A campaign-related video, uploaded to YouTube, features people rushing to pick up copies of their long-awaited Constitution. Reactions vary between confusion and shock, to flipping through blank pages, but they all smile at the end when they get the message.

Now almost 6 weeks separate us from what is suppose to mark the end of the Coalition’s (Troika) rule led by the moderate Islamic party Ennahda. Meanwhile, new political parties from different spectrums are appearing, others are joining hands in preparation for the next elections. The question remains: How long do Tunisians need to suffer the human rights violations, insecurity and corruption? And when will we actually have our Constitution?

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