Having kick-started the Arab uprisings of 2011, Tunisia is now heading into uncharted waters of democratisation and pluralism. Mimicking the scenes of thousands of protestors pouring into Avenue Bourguiba on January 14 to topple Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, millions of voters flocked to polling booths on October 23 last year, queuing for hours to cast their vote in Tunisia’s historic constituent assembly elections.
The country voted overwhelmingly for political leaders with established credentials and a history of opposition to Bourguiba and Ben Ali. The electorate dealt a landslide defeat against the remnants of the former regime bringing to power a collection of parties in a coalition government. By voting for Ennahda, the Congress for the Republic and Ettakatul, the Alliance for Freedom and Work, voters sought to right the numerous wrongs (exile, imprisonment, and torture) that were inflicted on these parties under both Bourguiba and Ben Ali.
There remain concerns that Tunisia might yet slide towards theocracy, but such concerns seem unfounded given the proliferation of public debate throughout the country and the determination to hold onto newfound rights to free speech and protest. The challenge for post-revolutionary Tunisia is to steer clear of the identity-based politics which have been distracting from the more urgent questions of creating jobs, helping the families of the victims of the revolution and bringing members of the old regime to justice.
Tunisia’s obligation to the Arab world — indeed, to the world at large — is not to let the process of democratisation fail. It must to continue to inspire insurrection and revolt across the world while striving for economic stability at home. Tunisia will be worthy of great praise if it succeeds, but the international community will be partially to blame if it fails. The world has an obligation to help Tunisia fulfil its promise.
Nouri Gana is an Associate Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of California is Los Angeles (UCLA). Gana was born and educated in Tunisia.
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