January 14, 2011, January 14, 2021. It has been ten years since Tunisia ended the Ben Ali era. A decade later, where is this small Maghreb country heading for the Arab Spring? Element of reaction with Sophie Bessis, historian, specialist in sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb.
RFI: What conclusions can we draw from the Tunisian revolution ten years later?
Sophie, Bess: It would take pages and pages to take stock of what happened in December 2010 and January 2011. The way I could sum it up is that Tunisians first chased a dictator, brought down an authoritarian regime. This is the first and most important achievement, and the problems that the country is currently experiencing in Tunisia will not be able to question it. Then Tunisia gave itself a regime that is completely different from the regimes that had been in place since independence in 1956, that is, the presidency of Bourguiba and Ben Ali – how different they both are were authoritarian regimes. This is the first assessment that can be drawn with the consequences of the creation of another republic with the Constitution adopted in January 2014 and a certain number of achievements, such as freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and exchange, if you can call it that, in favor of completely transparent elections since Tunisia since January 2011 has had three elections: that of the Constituent Assembly in 2011, the first legislative and presidential election in 2014 and the last in October 2019. So much for the institutional and political framework.
These ten years, which separate us from the revolution, have their dark part, insofar as the economic and social issues have not yet been resolved and that Tunisian democracy is still in a period of “learning”. And this learning takes place under painful and difficult conditions.
► To read: January 14, 2011 ends the Ben Ali era in Tunisia
We even have the impression that the economic and social situation is deteriorating …
In fact, the economic and social situation today is extremely difficult in Tunisia, all economic and social indicators are undoubtedly in the red. In this regard, the ten years since the revolution have seen no attempt to resolve economic and social issues, while this revolution, the uprising of December 2010 and January 2011, was primarily caused by social discontent among the country’s most vulnerable populations. But unfortunately, the Tunisian political class that took power after the revolution did not have the ambition to solve the economic and social problems facing Tunisia. The Troika, under Islamist rule after the October 2011 Constituent Assembly elections, which lasted until the end of 2013, did not address these issues at all. This government ideologised the transition by highlighting identity issues and Tunisia’s membership of the Arab-Islamic territory, therefore by trying to re-Islamize Tunisian society in a very conservative sense. This has been the priority of this government.
We must not forget, however, that every revolution, every change of regime, evokes a period of instability, which period of instability was confronted with an international situation that was not brilliant, and with internal upheavals that were not. nor, beginning with the terrorist attacks, which had an extremely serious impact on Tunisia: they brought the tourism sector, a very important sector of the economy, to its knees. Since 2014, since the election of the late Caïd Essebsi, we have witnessed the creation of governments that have actually tried to fill the gaps to deal with the most urgent without any global vision, no strategic vision, how Tunisia could get off to a good start. in economic affairs and resolving the issue of social inequalities, an issue which is extremely serious today and which is deteriorating day by day. Since October 2019, since the last election, we have witnessed instability in the government, which bans any long-term vision of Tunisia’s future.
► To read also: [Reportage] The disappointment in Tunis, ten years after the revolution
Could this situation escalate?
The story never happens in the same way. We have a whole rhetoric today that says Tunisia is heading for another revolution. None. History does not repeat itself. There is violence today in Tunisia, there is social violence, there are repeated strikes, occupations. Tunisia is not a quiet country today. This is the first thing to notice. And it is unlikely to escalate into a general uprising. These are things that are localized to claims, many of which are legitimate and others are quite corporate.
Rather, I believe that Tunisia is going through an extremely difficult period, which is not over. Social and economic indicators are therefore still in the red. The problem is political, insofar as the political class sitting in the driver ‘s seat does not seem to be able to resolve the pressing issues facing the country.
There is a lot of talk today about a new national dialogue that allows the country to get off track, like the national dialogue in the summer of 2013, which had made it possible to avoid a deep political crisis. Will this dialogue take place? Will there be agreement on how Tunisia can get out of this bad program? It is very difficult to say today, especially as the Assembly of People’s Representatives – the Tunisian National Assembly – consists of a myriad of parties that have only their own interests as their horizon, the interests of their leaders, and are consumed by political egos that do not serve the interests of the country.
► To read also: Ten years of the Tunisian revolution darkened by coronavirus
Could we say that the revolution is not over yet?
The revolutionary event is over. It took place in 2010-2011 and lasted for a few months. Now, the pause that this revolutionary event in the history of Tunisia has opened a new sequence of this history. This new sequence is only in its infancy, it is obvious. There is no end to this new series. We are in a period of learning democracy, with painful learning. There are gains, there are absolutely huge loopholes, but Tunisia is starting another story with difficulties that are very worrying today. Of course, this strip has just begun and is far from over.
How can we explain that Tunisia is the only country that has had success in its Arab Spring??
Each country has a specific history. What we often do not understand in the West is that the Arab countries are not all formatted in the same form. There are fundamental differences between these countries. In fact, almost all the countries that have experienced uprisings ended, either with dictatorial restorations like in Egypt or by cruel wars like in Syria or by foreign interventions that aggravated the situation as in Yemen. . Tunisia has effectively avoided these catastrophic scenarios. It is in a difficult period, but it has fallen neither into total chaos nor into war nor into dictatorial recovery.
Tunisia has political traditions that have made it possible to maintain channels of dialogue between the various political actors. It has experienced much greater societal modernization than some other countries in the region. This modernization of society, in particular the modernization of the status of women and the status of women (who, incidentally, have been extremely important actors in the last decade) means that today there is an active civil society that has made it possible for the organizations (which also participated in the national dialogue) to compensate for the shortcomings of the state, which also made it possible not to sink into the chaos in which other countries have fallen. Perhaps there is a Tunisian specificity. We will see what it will provide in the future. It is not certain that it will allow the country to escape other serious dangers, but for the moment, this specificity has enabled Tunisia to follow a difficult path, but still to follow it. .