What Arab Spring gave Tunisians
YOUNG Tunisians say the revolution they staged eight years ago to oust their longtime dictator has failed to restore their “dignity” and ease the North African country’s economic woes.
“Since the revolution we have freedom but still no dignity,” says Sofiene Jbeli, an unemployed computer technician who lives in the satellite town of Douar Hicher west of Tunis. Like many of his compatriots Jbeli says he does not regret taking part in the first of the Arab Spring uprisings that shook the region and forced out veteran strongmen like Tunisia’s president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. But he feels bitter. “If the system does not change in 2019 (when presidential and legislative elections are due to take place) the revolution would have been for nothing,” says the 35-year-old.
Sociologist Olfa Lamloum of the NGO International Alert shares some of Jbeli’s assessment but disagrees that the revolution failed completely. “The revolution’s slogan was ‘work, dignity and freedom’ but the first two were not achieved,” says Lamloum.
While Tunisia has been praised as a model of democratic transition, wealth and control of the economy remain concentrated in the hands of a small elite despite economic growth. The country is grappling with an inflation rate of 7.5 per cent and unemployment stands at more than 15 per cent, with those worst hit being young university graduates. In May, Tunisia held its first free municipal elections with more than 57,000 candidates — half of them women and young people — running for office. The quotas for women and youth candidates in the polls — touted as another milestone on the road to democracy — “allowed a large number of young people to be elected to municipal councils”, says Lamloum.
And yet, she says, “nothing has been done to improve the lives of young people… Socially, their situation has really deteriorated”.
“We launched a revolution in order to become full-fledged citizens but for me the only thing I got out of it was freedom of expression,” says high school student Hamza Dhifali. “Before (the uprising) I could not express myself freely, now I can. It’s great, but no one listens,” he adds. —AFP