What Arab Spring gave Tu­nisians

Financial Chronicle - - EDIT, OPED, THE WORKS -

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

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