Four years after the revolution: Tunisia still upholds the values of the Arab Spring

Today, 14 January 2015, four years after the revolution, Tunisia remains the only country which is still upholding the values of the Arab Spring and as such, it deserves the unequivocal support by the democratic world, a support which must be equally economic, professional and moral, says ILAC Executive Director Christian Åhlund.

P1020362‘ The Arab Spring began 14 January 2011 in Tunisia, when the democratic opposition after weeks of courageous and bloody running battles against the security forces in the streets of Tunis finally forced their president and long-time oppressor Ben Ali into exile in Saudi Arabia. The Tunisian revolution set the example for other countries in the region. Only weeks later, Egypts Hosni Mobarak was forced to resign under similar circumstances. In Libya, Moammar Ghadaffi was toppled after forty years of ruthless and erratic oppression. In Syria, a wide-spread movement of dissent launched an originally peaceful opposition against President Bashir Assad.

After four years, Tunisia is the only country where the Arab Spring is still alive. In Egypt, a military dictatorship is back in place. Libya has degenerated into what the Economist calls the world´s next failed state. In Syria, the conflict has developed into a seemingly endless, increasingly bloody and brutal civil war, which has already killed hundreds of thousands, and which now threatens the stability of the whole region. People in other countries in the Arab world, like Bahrein, who nurtured aspirations of freedom and democracy, have seen them brutally crushed by their authoritarian regimes.

But Tunisia´s road towards democracy has certainly not been without problems. The first couple of years after the revolution were plagued by an increasingly bitter conflict between secular and religious political forces, which climaxed in 2013 with several high profile political assasinations, which were attributed to unchecked Islamist extremists.

In the fall of 2013, Tunisia saw a dangerously increasing political polarisation and a lock-down in the process of developing a new constitution. The turning point was a historic compromise in October 2013 between the leader of the secular political forces Beji Caid Essebsi and the head of the religious Ennahda Party Rashid Ghanouchi. This ground-breaking agreement paved the way for a non-political caretaker government to lead the country to parliamentary and presidential elections. The compromise also laid the ground for restarting the constitutional process, which has led to the first secular and democratic constitution in the Arab world.

In the beginning of 2015, Tunisia is alone among the original countries of the Arab Spring to still follow the road towards democracy. Free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections took place in November and December 2014, and the new democratic and secular constitution has gone into force at the beginning of 2015. To be sure, Tunisia is still suffering from serious problems. The economy is still struggling, the security situation remains precarious and the country will have to find a balance between protecting democratic freedoms and battling the forces which want to destroy these freedoms.

But Tunisia remains the only country, which is still upholding the values of the Arab Spring and as such, it deserves the unequivocal support by the democratic world, a support which must be equally economic, professional and moral. The transition to democracy in Tunisia must prevail. If it does, Tunisia will serve as an example and an encouragement for those forces in the region which are still fighting for democracy. If it fails, it will take decades before true democracy will have another chance to take hold in the Arab world.’

Christian Åhlund
Executive Director ILAC