Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Tunisia: The First Shot

By Claire Anderson

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Also see: Egypt |Iran |Tunisia | Yemen | Jordan|Syria

It was the revolution that sparked the Arab Spring with a literal spark: on Dec. 17, 2010 frustrated fruit vender, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire after being assaulted by police, “unleashing pent-up anger and frustration among his compatriots who staged protests that spread nationwide,” reported the Associated Press.

Over the next month protests driven by high unemployment, inflation, corruption, poor living conditions and lack of general freedoms swept the country; violent clashes between protesters and police resulted in the deaths of 200.

President Zine El Adidine Ben Ali at first promised reform and free elections, and then realized the people would only be satisfied when he was gone. Then, on Jan. 14, 2011 Ben Ali and his family fled to Saudi Arabia, thus securing the quickest and easiest political turn over in what would become known as the Arab Spring.

Since the dictator fled, Tunisia has endured nine months of protests, disorganization and “political wrangling” that has resulted in a huge turnout in the freest election in Tunisia’s history last October. Moncef Marzouki a human rights activist was elected President and Hamadi Jebali a moderate Islamist, who was jailed by the old regime, was elected Prime Minister; they, in turn, are backed up by one of the most diverse assemblies Tunisia has ever seen.

The fall of Ben Ali’s government does not solve all of Tunisia’s problems though. Due to the regions recent tumults and its still shaky government, both tourism and foreign investment are down. Such economic hard times have forced the unemployment rate up 7 percent, bringing it to 20 percent from last year’s 13 percent.

The other issue on the political field is what the political party, Ennahda, who, according to USA Today, won “89 out of the 217 seats of the assembly, more than three times of its closest rival,” will do with their new power; the assembly, after all, is responsible for appointing the interim government and writing a new constitution.

Ennahda is a moderate Islamist group that said it wants to base the Constitution on Islamic Sharia law but also insists that the country’s progressive 1956 personal status code, which gives women the right to vote, be elected to public office and earn equal wages, as well as outlawing polygamy, addressing divorce and abortion rights be kept. This stands as evidence to their progressive ideals and respect for various cultures and creeds.

As the Associated Press reported last October, Ennahda’s “ability to gain votes by moderating its message in a country with a progressive social history could be a model for Islamist parties elsewhere.”

When Tunisians were asked why they voted for Ennahda, they cited “everything from protection of Islam to the hope that the party could deliver jobs, to the fact that it once [was] severely repressed by the government,” reported the Associated Press.

Some Tunisians and onlookers around the world fear the Tunisian government will fall back into old ways, rampant with corruption. Thus far, the Prime Minister has already given a few kickbacks, including key ministries to his party Ennahda.

Another fear is that because Ennahda was exiled during Ben Ali’s rule and is now a legitimate political contender, the party will try to make the government more conservative, limiting the rights of women in particular.

Maryam Hamim, a student who gave an interview to USA Today, said in the paper’s article that her biggest fear is “Tunisia becoming another Iran.” According to the article, she is confident her voice will be heard and upheld by the new government. She ended her USA Today interview by saying, “I am not afraid of Ennahda, I evicted the old dictator. I can evict a new dictator.”

Many political parties are involved with the new interim government and dedicated to Tunisia “furiously building the hardware of democratic politics – institutions and procedures to cradle and protect its democracy regardless of who’s in charge of the government,” reported the AP.

“We will play a role in the new constitution and assure it has a separation between religion and state,” said Maya Jribi, the leader of the Progressive Democratic Party, another political party in Tunisia. “Women’s rights here are more advanced than anywhere in the Arab world and the secular parties say they will fight to maintain that unique status,” reported the AP.

But despite familiar woes, Tunisia is faring better than most of its Arab Spring compatriots: the government is more liberal, more educated, accepting of minorities and women’s rights than any other in the area; and, the new government is dedicated to boosting the economy and fighting the corruption that spurred the revolution. All of this will hopefully serve as a model to other Arab countries in the area.

Claire Anderson in a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]

 

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