Unfinished business

Well over two years on from the first ‘Arab Spring’ revolution, Tunisia is still coming to terms with democracy

Along Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the main strip in Tunis where thousands congregate in cafes and shops in a setting similar to Paris’ Champs-Elysees, pedestrians are intermittently forced onto the road to avoid long spirals of barbed wire still littering the street from a revolution that took place well over two years ago.

The barriers are symbolic of the country’s continuing battle to achieve all it set out for in January 2011, when protests in the capital successfully toppled former president Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali, sending him fleeing in just four days and kickstarting a domino effect that became known as the Arab Spring.

The rapid success and limited number of deaths associated with the revolution made Tunisia something of a golden example of how to overthrow an authoritarian government, particularly when compared to Egypt and Libya.

Thirty months on, however, and progress has not kept pace with those aspirations. The North African country, wedged between Libya and Algeria, still does not have a constitution and elections have been indefinitely postponed. Such delays also are hurting the economic recovery, while talk of a second uprising has emerged.

“The people are more anxious because now they care; the old regime created the climate where people just didn’t care and suddenly the revolution made them care again and now they are a little bit depressed,” political activist and blogger Slim Amamou, who was jailed under the Ben Ali regime before becoming a minister in the interim government for four months, tells Arabian Business.

At the heart of the problem is a new struggle for power between Islamists and secularists. While the government is led by the moderate Islamist party Ennahda, hardline Islamist Salafists, who were oppressed under Ben Ali, are pushing for a broader role for religion in the new Tunisia.

Ennahda won only 40 percent of the vote but was asked to form a government because the remaining 60 percent was split between competing secular groups. Secular parties appear to be strengthening their alliances to form larger coalitions more capable of defeating Ennahda at the next poll, but Ennahda is accused of prolonging its power by delaying the constitution and therefore an election, which is due by the end of the year.

“They’re forbidding the process from working and at the same time saying we’re not ready for an election because the constitution is not ready, and in the meantime they’re still ruling the country,” says Amamou, whose own Pirate Party does not intend to run at the next election.

There are also claims that the Ennahda member put in charge of overseeing the constitution altered the draft presented by the constitutional committee in favour of more Islamist views.

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