Home Contact Us  

Iran - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#5425, 23 January 2018
Whither Tunisia?
KP Fabian
Former Indian diplomat, & Professor, Indian Society of International Law

When Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali - who had been Tunisia's president for 23 years - fell from power in January 2011, it appeared that Tunisia would embark on a journey towards democracy for the first time since its independence from France in 1957. Habib Bourguiba who led the struggle for freedom wanted to be president for life. In 1987, he was deposed in a bloodless coup by his Prime Minister Ben Ali who promised to introduce democracy. Ben Ali soon reneged on his promises and crony capitalism set in.

For over two years post-Ben Ali, Tunisia appeared to be moving in the right direction. A progressive constitution was adopted, and a free and fair election delivered a government led by Ennahda (Renaissance), a reformed Muslim Brotherhood party, which had been banned for decades. However, the supporters of the old order combined with secularists who nursed an irrational allergy towards Ennahda demanded that the government step down; and, wisely or unwisely, it did step down. Currently, Ennahda is a junior partner in a coalition of contradictions led by those who were Ben Ali's accomplices in ruining Tunisia.  Today, Tunisia has its sixth prime minister since Ben Ali's exit. As recently as 8 January 2018, 770 protesters were arrested, and one killed. A recent survey found that only 11.5 per cent of Tunisians believe that the present system is democratic.

In short, most Tunisians are angry and disappointed as seven years have elapsed since their country ignited the Arab Spring that felled rulers who had held on to power for decades, through means fair or foul, in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. What went wrong can easily be listed: a mismanaged, stagnant economy not creating jobs for the young in a population with an average age of 31; an unreformed political system unresponsive to the demands of the people; unaddressed disparities between the comparatively prosperous coastal belt and the interior; rampant corruption; and over- centralisation of power in the capital begetting anger and frustration in the rest of the country. Some Tunisians have started saying that it was better under Ben Ali.

In retrospect, Ben Ali did not exactly fall. He went to Jeddah accompanying his wife Leila Trabelsi who had attracted a lot of public hatred as her family members made money by stealing from the state with impunity.  Ben Ali’s aides prevented him from coming back as they wanted power. Some Tunisians held the opinion that if Ben Ali had divorced Leila and punished those who plundered the state he could have remained in office.  In short, what happened in January 2011 was short of a genuine revolution as power did not pass from the dictator to a new leadership with popular support determined to eradicate the old order and replace it with a new democratic one.

For a while, many well-wishers of Tunisia thought that Rached Ghannouchi, co-founder of Ennahda, named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential leaders in 2012, would lead Tunisia in the right direction. However, he has not done so. He lacks the drive to lead his party with a clear goal of a democratic Tunisia embracing inclusive growth by dismantling the old order. 

With mounting public debt (US$16.38 billion as against a GDP of US$42 billion) and an ailing economy, the Tunisian government did what most governments in the third world do and approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2013 for a loan. A loan of US$2.9 billion was granted to be paid in tranches depending on progress made in ‘structural adjustments’. Essentially, the IMF wanted to cut down public spending, reform the tax code, and reduce the numbers on the state pay roll. Prices of essential goods including bread and grains shot up. Average family income at US$150 a month proved grossly inadequate, and the people came out on to the streets in January.

At present, Tunisia’s prospects for removing the obstacles in its desired march towards a democracy with an improving economy that will create jobs for the young are bleak. The EU, preoccupied with its own internal problems, has not done much to promote democracy. The IMF has yet to learn from its past follies. That a prescription of austerity will only add to the misery of the common people has been proved time and again and Greece's pathetic plight is obvious to everyone except to those who are willfully blind.

Thousands of young Tunisians have either joined the Islamic State (IS) or gone to Europe looking for jobs. As the IS has collapsed, some of the young will return. Will they carry out terrorist activities in Tunisia? Will there be another revolution?  There might be violent protests, but such protests do not add up to a revolution. Tunisia needs a new political leadership. President Mohamed Beji Caid Essebsi, 91, who held high offices under Ben Ali, cannot take Tunisia in a new direction. Neither can the ruling coalition of contradictions deliver. What happened to Tunisia is best summed up by Shakespeare:

“O, how this spring of love resembleth
The uncertain glory of an April day,
Which now shows all the beauty of the sun,
And by and by a cloud takes all away!” 

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within

OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee


Browse by Publications

Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Naxalite Violence 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
Trump and Jerusalem: Long-Term Implications

India-EU: Potential Partners in the Emerging World Order?

Forecast 2017: The Future of the European Union

Trump's Strike Against Syria: International Implications

Where is Egypt Headed?

Syrian Foreign Minister in India: Some Answers, Some Questions

The US, Syria and Iraq: The Success of Airstrikes So Far

Can Iraq's Disintegration be Prevented?

Y! MyWeb
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2018
 January  February
 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010
 2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
 2001  2000  1999  1998  1997

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2018, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.