January 14, 2011 ends the Ben Ali generation in Tunisia

Ten years ago, Tunisia opened a new page in its history. After 23 years in power, President Ben Ali fled his country, the result of a month of unprecedented protests. A revolution which then opens the door to democracy for the Tunisian people.

It has been a decade since Tunisia opened a new chapter, not without difficulty, but at an unprecedented rate. The event that will bring down the regime’s fall, which many Tunisians thought was unshakable, took place on December 17, 2010, when Mohamed Bouazizi, a young merchant from Sidi Bouzid (Midwest), set himself on fire to protest the seizure of his merchandise.

From then on and for four weeks, demonstrations spread, first against unemployment and then against the regime, like wildfire across the country and were no longer limited to only inland regions that have long been more disadvantaged than those on the coast. . According to observers, they are considered “non-violent” and they will not be spared the brutality of the regime. The official toll this month of clashes between protesters and law enforcement is 219 dead and 510 injured, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

But despite police repression, protesters are determined to end President Ben Ali’s 23-year reign, including accused of corruption and human rights violations. An unprecedented bet succeeded on January 14, 2011: the president fled to Saudi Arabia. The one who in 1987, when he took power, promised “a just, balanced, democratic society” died in September 2019 in Jeddah.

The long democratic transition

From 15 January 2011, the democratic transition begins. The country experienced its first free election on October 23, 2011 with the aim of defining the composition of the Constituent Assembly. The Islamist Ennahda party gains the majority. With two secular parties, it forms a coalition and a power-sharing agreement is concluded. The assembly is then tasked with drafting a new constitution that will see the light of day on January 26, 2014.

The latter established a semi-presidential regime in which the president retains powers in matters of foreign policy, defense and internal security. The president is elected every five years by universal suffrage for a maximum of two terms. After being postponed several times, the first legislative and presidential election took place in late 2014. Beji Caid Essebsi elected president in the second round. He gave in to Kaïs Saïed in October 2019.

Persistent or even exacerbated difficulties

But despite the fall of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, free and democratic elections, invaluable freedom of expression, the 11 million Tunisians remain bitter: the economic and social situation (unemployment now exceeds 15%) is in the red. In addition, the wave of terror in 2015, which hit the country front-on, is weakening the tourism sector, an important sector of the Tunisian economy. Another expectation from the citizens: the promised reform of justice, but still not completed.

The country’s strong man has fallen, but hopes for a better life have faded somewhat. “Tunisia is theoretically a democracy now, but a number of technocratic governments have struggled to change things and balance the interests of the traditional elite with the interests of the underprivileged people,” said the Transnational Institute, a laboratory of ideas based in Amsterdam.

In fact, the political class, more fragmented than ever since the 2019 legislative election, is thus tearing itself apart without being able to act. The main party – of Islamist inspiration -, the Ennahdha movement, is fighting to form a stable majority in an assembly where a large number of parties sit. The debates are degenerating regularly, and blows were even exchanged a few weeks ago.

According to one examination 67% of the Tunisian population carried out in the ten years of the revolution believe that the current situation is worse than in 2010. Social protests are multiplying over the years.

To uncover the current crisis, Tunisians currently represent half of migrants arriving illegally in Italy: secret crossings of the Mediterranean have begun to rise again since 2017 due to lack of prospects.

Towards a national dialogue?

The social emergency is therefore increasing with today also the dramatic fallout from the new coronavirus pandemic.

On December 30, the Tunisian president became Kaïs Saïed said it was in favor of a national dialogue, as proposed by the central UGTT (which played a key role during the political transition after the 2011 revolution) to find solutions to the difficult situation in the country. The Tunisian President endorsed the organization of this dialogue “in order to rectify the revolution that has been weighed” and demanded participation in this dialogue “by representatives of young people from all regions of the republic”.

The difficulties that Tunisia has had for ten years are therefore many, and there is still a long way to go to solve them all. But the Tunisian people managed to turn the page on authoritarianism on January 14, 2011 and open the side of democracy.


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