Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution is not over yet
IT IS clear that Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution is not over yet, even though its people succeeded in very quickly removing dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, whose tyranny had become more oppressive with each passing year and who systematically exploited the country.
Ever since his overthrow in January 2011, the heart of the nation has been torn between two forms of government - almost between two different codes of ethics that cause a deep rift among the people.
After a short period of anarchy following the first uprising in the Arab Spring, the Islamist organisation Ennahda (Renaissance) managed to expel all of Mr Ben Ali's former ministers from the Tunisian legislature.
Nevertheless, Ennahda was forced to work together with other parties, as it was unable to form a government on its own either on a parliamentary or a political level in general.
The result was a three-way compromise with a prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, from the Islamist party, combined with a president of the Republic and a head of the Assembly from ‘secular’ parties.
However, just over a year later, the failure of this form of government needs to be recognised. This is why, given the growing unrest, Mr Jebali and his mentor, Rachid Ghannouchi, head of the Islamist party and the true strong man of Tunisia, have been forced to announce that they will fall back on a form of government made up of non-partisan technocrats.
In the end it was Ali Larayedh, considered as a moderate within Ennahda, who succeeded Mr Jebali in February 2013. He immediately declared that he wanted to fight ‘the attacks on women, artists and culture’. Pious hopes, to say the least.
However, there was an urgent need to spend the beginning of 2013 adopting a new constitution, followed by, in theory, new legislative and presidential elections in June and July. In the end, the constitution is expected to be completed in May or June, with elections postponed until the autumn.
The Islamists have perhaps overstepped themselves; the origins of the Tunisian revolution were first and foremost economic, and it is on this problem that they need to focus their attention.
The economic situation has deteriorated since 2010, unemployment has exploded and tourism has declined drastically. Tourism could ultimately cause the Islamists’ downfall, as it represents the main business sector in the country today, and it is hard to imagine how it can thrive in a rigid society in which women are veiled from head to toe, adulterers are stoned to death and young girls subjected to circumcision.
The cities and towns on the coast, in particular, having enjoyed the manna of tourism, are not ready to return to the Islamist Middle Ages.
As a still relatively young country, Tunisia is searching for a direction, one that could resemble that of Morocco, minus the monarchy, and as a bridge between Africa and an Arab world still lacking in the ways of democracy, and the West, whose values do not attract it.
It still has a strong agro-food industry in place, a booming construction sector and a large insurance company, all of these alongside its goose laying the golden eggs - tourism.
Choosing fundamentalist Islam today would signify the death of tourism. It is certain that the majority of the population does not want it, because of economic opportunism as well as adherence to the values of liberty and confirmed secularism.
However, political leaders in the opposition must also find a way to counteract the social influence of Islam spreading with support from the lowest levels of society, who have been abandoned to their fate.