The Jasmine revolution, ignited by a street fruit vendor, changed the course of history for Tunisia and is arguably transforming the rest of the region. A popular uprising that was started by the restless and jobless youth demanding employment rapidly spread and engulfed the whole country. Tunisians of all walks of life, united, fought the entrenched dictatorship and the regime security apparatus demanding freedom, dignity, and justice.
Three years had passed fraught with unprecedented turbulence from sporadic violence, assassinations, and political polarization to economic uncertainty. Facing such challenges, resilient and determined Tunisians led by a coalition government and represented by an elected National Constituent Assembly finally approved a constitution that is said to be the most progressive in the Arab world.
Among its many articles, it calls for the republic to be based on secular rule of law, it also guarantees and protects universal freedoms, gender and economic opportunity equality, healthcare for all, workers rights and many others. The new constitution established a power sharing governmental structure and mandates the distinct separation of its legislative, executive and judiciary branches.
Tunisians ought to be proud and honored, for such an accomplishment is the indispensible ingredient for a representative democracy. Compromise, Consensus, and Conciliation were the three C’s that guided Tunisians throughout the wobbly process of finalizing the constitution. Most MPs, government officials, civil society members and opposition parties sensed the historic significance of the moment and that certainly helped them navigate the unforgiving revolutionary waters that are peppered with inflated expectations.
It is certainly national security and the economy for 2014. There is an urgent short-term need to create measurable and impactful results for all Tunisians. This will readily demonstrate on-the-ground progress, calm the masses and protect the fragile democratic transition path. Essentially, such quick wins will foster a stable social and political ecosystem that would allow for developing thoughtful and strategic much needed social and economic reforms.
The new caretaker government will need to focus on establishing and securing the next parliamentary and presidential elections. Tunisians will need to witness and experience that the country is certainly moving forward politically and that the sacrifices of the past three years are finally creating the desired outcome, a functioning and participatory democracy. Such a clear direction will calm nerves and eliminate to a certain degree the mistrust between political parties as well as civil society organizations. Security forces and the army will need to closely cooperate and continue monitoring and defending the country and its borders, irrespective of political affiliation, from extremists and jihadists. Defusing potential security threats that could easily derail any progress made to date should be a top priority.
The delicate Tunisian economy needs a healthy dose of confidence and stability to start recovering, and rapidly. Unemployment is still hovering around 18% – it is higher in rural areas and amongst the youth, and economic growth has stalled for the past three years. The new caretaker government needs to keep on improving the security situation while designate and executing a clear path to the next election. Both tracks will have an immediate stabilizing impact on all sectors of the economy but specifically on tourism, which accounts 7-8% of Tunisia’s GDP and employees about 400,000 Tunisians. The caretaker government will need to work with business leaders in Tunisia and abroad to enhance consumer and local investor confidence, which tends to improve with stability, security and political clarity. Moreover, there has to be a well designed and properly executed short-term strategy to capitalize and promote the latest positive political events to the world community and to the Tunisian diaspora in Europe and North America to attract needed talent, direct foreign investment as well as aid from international organizations.
The atmosphere in Tunisia is very festive, optimistic and infectious. A clear vision and value of Tunisia is developing that is of an oasis of individual freedoms collective dreams, stability and responsible citizenry. We should recognize and appreciate the dedication and efforts put forth by all parties to create such an environment by adopting the new Constitution. President Obama said during his State of the Union address yesterday “From Tunisia to Burma, we are supporting those who are willing to do the hard work of building democracy”. Tunisia is certainly a huge opportunity for its people, for the region and the World and its success will prove an era of possibilities in the region.
All eyes are on Tunisia with a lot of hope, and rightfully so, since the success of the Tunisian democratic experience will set a tested roadmap for the rest of the region. The path ahead is still unpaved and challenging and the 3C’s are needed more than ever; “hard work” is certainly required so let’s all keep our sleeves rolled up and our eyes focused on the future of Tunisia.