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A decade after Arab Spring, Tunisia is still fighting for democracy6 min read

August 5, 2021 5 min read

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A decade after Arab Spring, Tunisia is still fighting for democracy6 min read

Reading Time: 5 minutes

In the northernmost tip of the continent of Africa, lies a country called Tunisia. This African nation became very prominent and came into the international spotlight in late 2010, and now, it’s in the news all over again for similar reasons!

Tunisia lies at the northern-most tip of Africa.
Photo: Britannica

Tunisia, the place where the ‘Arab Spring’ began, is yet again witnessing protests in the streets.

What is the Arab Spring?

Protests on the streets of Tunisia back in 2011. Photo: History.com/Reuters

The Arab Spring was a wave of pro-democracy protests that took place in the Middle East and North Africa beginning in 2010 and 2011. These protests challenged the authoritarian government regimes in these regions.

The wave began when protests in Tunisia and Egypt toppled their regimes, inspiring similar attempts in other Arab countries. However, not every country saw success in the protest movement, and demonstrators expressing their political and economic issues were often met with violent crackdowns by their countries’ security forces.

Why the name ‘Arab Spring’?

The name ‘Arab Spring’ is a reference to the ‘Revolutions of 1848’ — also known as the ‘People’s Spring’ — when political unrest swept Europe. Ever since, ‘spring’ has been used to describe movements that are a fight for democracy.

While Egypt returned to military rule, Syria’s civil war extended and other countries also broke into civil wars, Tunisia was supposed to be a success story, as democracy was seen as a solution to the protests.

What led to the protests back then?
The first demonstrations took place in central Tunisia in December 2010, triggered when a 26-year-old street vendor set himself ablaze while protesting against how he was treated by local officials. A protest movement, called the ‘Jasmine Revolution’, quickly spread through the country. The Tunisian government attempted to end the unrest by using violence against street demonstrations and by offering political and economic provisions. The protests soon got so intense that then President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali had to give up his post and flee from the country on January 14, 2011.

What’s happening now?

Protests erupted again in the African nations when President Kais Saied suspended the entire government on July 25. While some people are calling it a ‘coup’, others are appreciating the president’s decision as an important move to bring about much-needed change in what they believe a corrupt government.

The 2021 protests. Photo: Yasine Gaidi/ AA picture alliance

President Saied made a televised announcement that he was sacking Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, suspending the parliament for 30 days.

Owliver’s Obscure Observations

President Saeid invoked Article 80 of the constitution when he dismissed the parliament and fired the Prime Minister. This law gives the President the power to take any measures necessitated in “the event of imminent danger threatening the nation’s institutions or the security or independence of the country, and hampering the normal functioning of the state”.

For many Tunisians, the president’s act is a response to the popular demand calling for the fall of Mechichi’s government. The dissatisfaction with Mechichi’s regime comes from the absence of state policies to respond to the increasing economic and health crisis made worse in the face of the pandemic. The protests are also against Mechichi favouring the use of security forces during protests.

For others, this decision marks the concentration of power in the hands of the president. Political power in the country is supposed to be divided between the president and the parliament.

The Covid factor

Tunisia, which has a population of roughly 12 million people, has only vaccinated 7% of its population.

Tunisia is currently seeing its worst wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. People of the country and upset with how the government has responded to the situation. They’re having their highest number of cases that they had the entire pandemic right now.

The pandemic has also made Tunisia’s economic woes worse, as unemployment is surging. According to The Guardian, 18,000 people have died in Tunisia out of the population of 12 million since the pandemic began. This had been a cause for the protests too. A few days ago, the president decided to have the military take over the operation of dealing with the pandemic. 

What does this mean for Tunisian democracy?

Photo: Giphy

Since the 2011 revolution that introduced democracy after decades of autocratic rule, the economy has stagnated, living standards have declined and public services decayed. This is definitely not the outcome anyone was hoping for.

Governments formed since then have not been able to keep the people of Tunisia happy, and also postponed dealing with many big, important issues, particularly the crumbling economy.

President Saied wants to abolish political parties and give the presidency more power.

Is it Arab Spring all over again?

The events of July 25 mark an important moment for Tunisia, but experts say it is too early to say if the country will see Arab Spring 2.0. Also, Presdient Saied is still quite popular among some sections of society – he won in a landslide victory in 2019. This basically means that he won by a large margin.

What happens next?

President Saied has a week to name a new candidate to try to form a government. If that fails, there will be a new parliamentary election later this year.

Some analysts believe the only way out will be a new election.


Sources: Al Jazeera, Indian Express, India Today, The Guardian, Britannica, DW

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