Domingo, 9 de Janeiro de 2011

Tunisia: drought in the oasis

Diogo Noivo

 

In December 2009 I wrote an article where I described Tunisia as “A socio-economic oasis in a political desert”. The ongoing nationwide protests taking place in Tunisia have exposed the debilities of the state, which led Ralph A. Stamm to write that “now it seems that even the socio-economic oasis Tunisia was supposed to be is drying out”. The riots started when Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old unemployed Tunisian university graduate who turned to street vending in order to subsist, set himself ablaze on December 17 in front of a governmental building, in the city of Sidi Bouzid. Bouazizi’s desperate act is a result of several immediate factors: unemployment, police brutality and failed expectations. But this would have been an isolated case – and, thus, unable to start street protests – if it did not stand for something more profound: lack of political freedom.

 

Back in 2009, I argued that “Ben Ali relies on Bourguiba’s formula of using an indisputable social and economic success as a mask for the absence of political overture. Nevertheless, the traditional excuses may be gradually disappearing. In spite of being a pioneer in the Arab World with regard to family planning policies, a generation of ambitious educated youth is having employment problems” adding that “An important part of Tunisian society is eager for political overture. Bearing in mind the growing numbers of young, unemployed citizens, establishing channels of political communication and participation could be the most sustainable way to prevent social problems”. In other words, one year ago I highlighted the fact that the economic progress and the country’s unique social policies (both in the Arab and African context) were not enough to complement the absence of transparency, accountability and political participation, particularly in face of a challenge such as mounting unemployment among the youth. Tunisia’s economy and social policies were if fact an oasis, especially if compared with neighboring countries. However, they are instrumental and only truly sustainable if based on a healthy political environment/practice. Tunisia’s problem is, at it was then, political. As expected, the political desert’s sands covered the socio-economic oasis.

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