Ten years after the overthrow of Ben Ali, Tunisia is the only country in the Arab Spring that has turned the revolution into a democratic process. However, the road remains rocky and frustrating.
Author: Dunja Sadaqi, ARD Studio North West Africa
“I understand you” – Tunisian longtime ruler Zine el-Abidin Ben Ali spoke about this famous phrase ten years ago. What he wants to understand – anger in the streets, caused by the death of Mohamed Bouazizi. After the police took the greengrocer’s goods away and tortured them, a 26-year-old man spilled gasoline and set himself on fire. His self-immolation triggers mass demonstrations in Tunisia by spreading information on social media – and by revolution. People have plenty of flying stones, bottles and Molotov cocktails.
The regime strikes hard – with rubber batons, tear gas and live ammunition. When he feels pushed into a corner, he tries to reassure autocratic long-term president Ben Ali. “Yes, I understand you. I understand everyone: the unemployed, the demonstrators, the politicians and those who demand more freedom – I understand you.”
Ten days after the death of greengrocer Bouazizi, Ben Ali fled Tunisia to Saudi Arabia after 23 years in power, where he died in 2019 at the age of 83. Ben Ali turned the country into a state of police and surveillance. The system includes torture, brutality and intrigue against journalists and members of the opposition. Abroad, Ben Ali plays a Democrat and guarantor of political stability. In the years that followed, the population became increasingly aware of how shamelessly Ben Ali and his family had become rich at the expense of the people.
Citizens’ frustration is still deep
Ten years after Ben Ali’s departure, Tunisia is on a difficult path to democracy. Yet: frustration and disappointment still sit deeply with many today. Especially in structurally weak regions. Like in Sidi Bouzid, where Bouazizi came from, who then set himself on fire. The city is located in central Tunisia and has approximately 48,000 inhabitants. Sidi Bouzid does not have a sea for tourism or luxury hotels. The city is surrounded by mountains and is the largest producer of vegetables in the country.
Issam, who is unemployed, also lives here. Issam says that nothing has improved in Sidi Bouzid since the revolution – on the contrary, life has become more expensive and more difficult. “Ten years of revolution – why did it exist?” Because of three demands: work, freedom, dignity. We haven’t seen any of that, “Issam says.” Work gives you freedom, and therefore dignity. “Every year, 20,000 young engineers leave the country and all doctors leave, Issam reports.” The rest goes to Italy. ” Iraq or Libya or sell hashish. ”
Unemployment in Tunisia has actually been higher since the revolution than before. In the last few months, oil plant blockages, strikes and demonstrations have taken place in various parts of the country. These are investments in remote regions of the country and jobs. Experts warn, young, frustrated men without a task – this could be a breeding ground for extremism.
In the first years after the Arab Spring, there were numerous Islamist attacks – for example, in 2015 at visitors to the Bardo Museum in Tunis and at tourists in the holiday resort of Sousse. Since then, the security situation in Tunisia has significantly improved. Tourism has recovered – until the pandemic.
The country is also politically paralyzed: social reforms for the population are making no progress – the prime ministers have been constantly changing – nine times since the revolution. Parliament remains fragmented even after the autumn 2019 elections.
The political situation worries investors
The confused political situation is also causing problems for the economy, says Jörn Bousselmi, executive director of the German-Tunisian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Tunis. “Continuity just wasn’t guaranteed.” The whole thing naturally creates challenges for companies that say: If I talk to someone who is excited about investment today, will he still be there tomorrow? “,” Says Bousselmi.
Investors are not ready to wait years for land without knowing if they will actually get it in the end. “The investor has a choice between several locations and from a certain point on, he simply says that the contract that suits me best will win the contract.”
Even the largest Tunisian puppet abroad is frustrating today: women’s rights. The state-of-the-art constitution of the so-called Arab world, which has been awarded many times, is not being implemented, the old laws are not being reformed. From a political and social point of view, Tunisians have many construction sites – even ten years after the revolution.