Will the ‘third revolution’ start from Tunisia?
This is Tunisia’s third revolution — of weathering the difficult transition to democracy
No one could have predicted that Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution would have had such a wide-reaching effect across North Africa and the Middle East. It was the self-immolation of a fruit seller, Mohamed Bouazizi, which sparked the protests, leading to the downfall of the regime, and inspiring similar revolts across the region.
Historically, the first wave of revolutions started when the people in Arab countries rose up against the colonial powers and their various proxy regimes after World War II. After defeating the occupiers, the military took over in many of these countries.
In the afterglow of these victories over the dark forces of imperialism, many thought, perhaps naively, that it would usher in a period of Arabic unity. It was not to be; the military regimes had only one agenda, to stay in power at all costs.
With the dissipation of their dreams of social justice, some looked back nostalgically at the so-called good times under the rule of former repressive leaders. Many more had a desperate desire to leave their countries. There was good reason for this because the economies of these countries tanked and unemployment rose. The military rulers were either only interested in hereditary succession or blind loyalty, rather than seeking development.
This is Tunisia’s third revolution — of weathering the difficult transition to democracyMohammed Fahad Al-Harthi
Bouazizi revolted against the illusions, corruption, and injustice of the first revolution. The second revolution targeted the regimes that subsequently failed their people. As governments toppled like dominoes, more people started demanding their dignity and freedom. Consequently, various Islamic political movements hijacked the revolutions to fulfill their long-standing dreams of taking power. However, much like their predecessors, many made the fatal mistake of doing everything they could to stay in government.
The other error of judgment these parties made was not listening to the demands of their people for jobs, health care and other benefits of a functioning, modern state. Instead of acknowledging that it was a difficult task to transform stagnant economies, and attempting to find solutions, they interpreted the protests as foreign-led conspiracies to overthrow them.
Political will and common sense
Tunisia’s Ennahda party was forced to deal with this reality two years after being elected. It succumbed under the pressure of civil society forces to agree to joint rule with two other parties, and for a government of technocrats to manage the country until elections could be held.
Tunisia’s people successfully prevented the country from descending into chaos and internal strife after several terrorist attacks and the assassination in 2013 of important leaders Shukri Bilead and Mohammed Al-Brahimi. This was largely due to their cultural and educational background — thanks to the influence of Habib Bourguiba, the country’s first president after independence from France.
The implementation of their road map has started with parliamentary elections. At the end of next month, Tunisians will vote to choose a new president. This is Tunisia’s third revolution — of weathering the difficult transition to democracy. The country’s constitution has given Parliament wide power, while limiting those of the president. This is an example of a country achieving political maturity to ensure a future of stability and development.
Tunisia is a small country in terms of size and population, but its achievements and ambitions are massive in a region beset by warring factions and bloodshed. It is an example to others in a similar position — that it is possible to reach consensus on seemingly insurmountable issues with the political will and simply pure common sense.
This article was first published in Arab News on October 29, 2014.
Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi is the editor-in-chief of Sayidaty and al-Jamila magazines. A prominent journalist who worked with Asharq al-Awsat in London and Arab News in KSA, al-Harthi later moved on to establish al-Eqtisadiah newspaper in KSA, in which he rose the position of Editorial Manager. He was appointed editor-in-chief for Arajol magazine in 1997. He won the Gulf Excellence award in 1992.