The Hidden Story Of Tunisia’s Success
On November 5, 2011, 12:14 AM by Savannah Cox
Why the Arab Spring’s most successful transformation deserves more of the world’s attention.
On October 23, an additional 42,000 Tunisian security forces patrolled the country to maintain order and peace. Prior to Mohamed Bouazizi’s heroic act of self-immolation that triggered the Tunisian revolution, said “order and peace” may have been more reminiscent of government-mandated oppression that left Tunisians silent for decades. Though nine months after its conception, the rebellious spirit of Bouazizi’s act gave birth to the first free elections the country had seen in over 20 years. What’s more, forces did not congregate to scare citizens away from voting; they were there to ensure that they could. And the Tunisians did: millions of registered voters cast their ballots in this historic election and seminal step toward democracy. As today’s Americans are known to cloak themselves in voter apathy yet simultaneously tout their belief in spreading democracy to the world, there is much for the United States to admire in the small North African nation.
A Formidable Feat
The fiercely secular dictatorship of Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali trampled its citizens for 23 years before it was finally overthrown by those formerly trampled on. Despite steady GDP growth and slashing the poverty rate from 7.4% in 1990 to 3.8% in 2005, many Tunisians still suffered from high rates of unemployment and a staggering amount of censorship. The proverbial cards were stacked high against them: even their constitution stated that “liberties of opinion, expression, the press, publication, assembly, and association are […] defined by the law.”
Yet the movement came directly from the people who suffered the most: the stakes were high, the future was uncertain, yet it was the Tunisians’ firm resolve that led them to the recently held free elections. They moved quickly, independently, and relatively peacefully, all of which help to explain why their transitions and successes lack the media coverage that Tunisia’s neighbors in Egypt and Libya have received. When things go well, no one cares.
In fact, things have gone so well that as soon as an earthquake rocked Turkey, everyone forgot about the stunning sea change that continues to sweep through Tunisia in great numbers. Over 90% of registered voters—men and women—went to their local polling stations to participate in what many saw as a celebration. Mohammed Naceur Ben Abdennebi from Gabes, Tunisia, said the following: “When I entered the voting booth, I realized the full extent of my new citizenship, because in previous years I never really tasted its worth. Thank God for this opportunity made available to me in my life. These are the first signs of the radiant future awaiting Tunisia.”
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