Writer Amr Adly, an assistant professor and researcher at the Carnegie Middle East Center, believes that Tunisian democracy is fine and there is no need to fear it. He pointed out in his article on Bloomberg that the tenth anniversary of the overthrow of the Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali passed without much celebration among the people who toppled him, and that the wider world may be surprised by the fact that Tunisia alone among the countries of the Arab Spring has preserved the freedoms it won in the year 2011, but few Tunisians were looking back with relief.
Yet thousands took to the streets once again to protest the failure of their larger revolution’s promise of “a fairer and more inclusive social and economic order”. They see their democracy as nothing more than a façade. Their country suffers from serious governance problems as a result of severe political fragmentation, social and cultural polarization, and rampant corruption.
The researcher commented that it is not surprising that some now argue that things were better under Ben Ali and that “populists” are attracting many of them. He added that if the democratic system in Tunisia was weak, but flexible, that is, it may seem incapable of addressing the multiple social and economic roots of the 2011 revolution, such as poverty, high unemployment rates, and large disparities between the interior and coastal regions, yet the spread of social and economic movements and the frequency of mass protests appears. The public sphere that was dominated 10 years ago is still expanding.
He hinted that Ben Ali’s despotic rule meant social and economic exclusion along with intense security and political repression. It is inconceivable that ordinary Tunisians would like this to return, and this is a testament to the resilience of the evolving democratic system, for despite all its weaknesses, none of the main actors – the army, political elites, or groups entering the public arena – appears ready or capable of restoring authoritarian rule.
The researcher added that the current challenges facing Tunisian democracy show the limits of political change without any possibility of economic change because the old elite networks still dominate the country’s economy. There are no short-term solutions to these structural problems, but there is room for rapid reforms and state support for large companies, making the former more progressive while removing old concessions.
He concluded that Tunisia may be on the same path. Demands for access to economic opportunities and redistribution of income and wealth have increased since 2011, and these will remain the basis for competition for the foreseeable future.