François Hollande, French president, declares in 2014 that Tunisia represents “the hope of the Arab world”. This country doesn’t cease to create the surprise – and sometimes the discontent – of its neighboring countries, but also of its society itself. After the French colonization, Tunisia will be jostled by dictatorships, corruption, but will also experience a commercial and touristic opening to the Western world. Long seen as a future “dragon” of the southern Mediterranean, economic difficulties will yet catch up this country. After many revolts and revolutions, Tunisia is today considered as an “Arab hope”. But why?
The Arab revolution
It was in 2008, less than three years before the popular revolt that led to the fall of the regime of Mr. Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, that the inhabitants of the Gafsa region, tired of nepotism, corruption and less-development, trigger one of the first important popular movement. Very strongly repressed, this one will not get dimmer however, demonstrating the power of the great popular cohesion of this country.
It is in December 2010 that the suicide by fire of a young street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, triggers important demonstrations in the center of the country, but also with the triggering of the “Arab Spring”. The government opts for repression, while the demonstration gradually wins the whole Tunisia. The Ben Ali clan, despite concessions (such as the promise of creating more than 300,000 jobs), will weaken to the point of being ejected from power.
In the Tunisian revolution, there is a distinctive characteristic that the neighboring countries did not have: there was no civil war, and this country was not taken by the hands of radical Islamists hostile to the ‘West. Her transition to a better democratic regime is also impressive. Although many actors, it can be considered that the main reasons for this difference with other countries crossed by the Arab revolutions are, in part, the nature of Tunisia and its political history since independence.
Indeed, it is a relatively unified country in terms of ethnicity, language and religion, compared for example to Libya or Egypt. There is in Tunisia a strong national feeling. There are no internal conflicts between militias, religions (Shiite / Sunni) compared to Syria in particular. It is a country unified in the will to overthrow the authoritarian and corrupt power. The Tunisian Revolution is also marked by a remarkable willingness on the part of its political actors to respect the rules of the democratic game and the spirit of compromise, as was demonstrated by the Ennahda party during the October 2011 elections.
The new Constitution: a great advance
The final text of the new constitution, put in place by the new constituting assembly, is adopted on January 26, 2014. This constitution is recognizes as a major text. The text establishes Islam as the official religion of the country but guarantees freedom of belief and promotes gender equality. As stated in its preamble, the Constitution is part of the “objectives of revolution, freedom and dignity, revolution from 17 December 2010-14 January 2011”. It gives a reduced place to Islam, but above all, for the first time in the Arab world, it introduces the goal of parity between men and women in the elected assemblies. This constitution is, in the Arab world, the one that guarantees and establishes the most rights for women. The main achievements of the political transition are therefore the civil character of the state, the principles of equality between citizens or freedom of conscience. All these are therefore democratic and republican values, influenced by Western countries.
In 2018, Tunisia continues to surprise in the West: President Beji Caid el Sebsi recently announced his willpower to bring a new bill establishing a gender equality in the inheritance, excluding at the same time a little more religion of the political field. There has also been discussion about the decriminalization of homosexuality. Tunisia has also passed a law about racism against black people in October, a first in the Arab world.
Be careful about the “Tunisian model”
If today Tunisia is seen as avant-garde, close to European ideals, the population is nevertheless very divided on all these issues. Many demonstrations took place for these laws, but also against. We must not forget that part of society remains very conservative and attached to the values of the Islamic religion. In addition, the issue of freedom of expression remains a problematic subject: while the situation has of course improved with regard to the Ben Ali regime, we cannot speak about a freedom of expression of which all fetters would have been removed. An example is of course the fate known by the Tunisian rapper Weld El 15.
We can consider, at present, that there exists a Tunisian model in the Arab revolutions. However, from a geopolitical point of view, the Tunisian model is difficult to apply outside of Tunisia.