Riding the Roller Coaster of Hope: Two Years after the Tunisian Revolution

tunisian-revolutionNearly two months separate Tunisians from the second anniversary of their revolution, and yet they can hardly believe two years ago they were on the threshold of something close to the fulfillment of a dream. Today, more and more Tunisians are wondering whether “revolution” is the term they should apply to what had happened in the period between December 17, 2010, and January 14, 2011.

It seemed that the farther Tunisians moved from that moment, the less certain they became about the future. Last year, the governorate of Sidi Bouzid took the decision to celebrate the Revolution anniversary on December 17 instead of January 14. Whereas the rest of the population chose to celebrate a date that points to accomplishments, the poverty-stricken midlands region wanted to emphasize beginnings, implying that their sense of achievement had not yet been satisfied.

TradingEconomics.com reported that unemployment rates in Tunisia reached 17.6% in the second half of 2012. Whereas this figure marked an improvement in comparison with the beginning of the year (18.3%), the government’s economic program is vague, and unable to meet with the expectations of economic idealists. Efforts are being made to diffuse more economic activity across regions and to break with the core and peripheral economic model that Tunisia has known for decades. However the inability of Tunisia’s ruling Islamist Ennahda (renaissance) party to sever with the legacy of bureaucratic hierarchy in its process of administrative reform does not answer for regional inequity.

Middle class citizens and the unemployed are not the only ones who feel frustrated

Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi created controversy and debate because of his outspoken benevolent attitude toward Salafis (Muslim fundamentalists). Liberal and pro-democracy activists were furious to what they see as a case of selective moral outrage. When leaders of the ruling party denounced the Salafis’ attack on the American embassy and called for its supporters to exert self-control following the release of the anti-prophet movie, their “outrage” changed when Salafis have been involved.

Following the broadcasting of Persepolis, a movie by Iranian-French filmmaker Marjane Satrapi on Nessma TV, some leaders from Ennahda denounced the broadcast and called for their allies to demonstrate against what they considered a plot against Islam, never once calling for self-control, even when the properties of Nessma TV owner Nabil Karwi were targeted with acts of vandalism.

Ennahda’s relationship with the media is degenerating from day to day, and several local and international observers are worried. Another channel owner, Sami el Fehri, was recently arrested for allegedly being involved in corruption cases under the previous regime. In a video he released on the morning he surrendered to Tunisian authorities, el Fehri confessed that he had been under continuous pressure from Ennahda to stop his TV station Ettounisia from airing a successful satirical TV show that features puppets mimicking political leaders.

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Moreover, Ennahda seems undecided about the way they should contend with Tunisia’s political and cultural legacy. Last March during Tunisia’s National Independence Day, the townships of Tunis and several other cities refused to decorate the city, a move that was interpreted as a resistance to the founding of the state. Independence Day is closely linked with the achievements of Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba, whose secularist policies Islamists believe threatened the nation’s Muslim identity. Likewise, Ennahda’s position on Tunisia’s political and cultural heritage is obscure and inconsistent, and the colorful tapestry of Tunisian history unsettles their ability to define Islam.

Ennahda’s stance on women’s rights is another ambiguous issue

Following the rape of a twenty-seven year old girl by two policemen, the Ministry of Justice spokesperson appeared to blame the girl. The Ministry claims she happened to be in an indecent position before the crime was committed.

It must be understood that Tunisia remains a traditionally conservative Muslim society and issues of rape and similar crimes are very sensitive. Victims are typically blamed more than the perpetrators and there is a fear that Ennahda would exploit this. While their encouraging statements to international media are reassuring, Tunisian women have to deal with the other image of Ennahda. A few months ago Ennahda representatives and their allies proposed an article advocating that women be complimentary to men which unleashed a heated debate in the Constitutional Assembly.

Although countless forecasts about Tunisia’s future are being proffered by both skeptics and optimists, understanding the vicissitudes of a transitional period is like trying to derive meaning from one piece of a puzzle. The story does not end with the departure of the tyrant; reality is far more disappointing than we tend to imagine; and the roller-coaster of hope stops after it reaches its peak. Perhaps that is the nature of what a revolution means. Many remain hopeful. A few, fleeting moments of intense optimism and goodwill are followed by a long and tedious transition where optimism and goodwill will have to accommodate themselves to the challenges of reality.

Imen Yacoubi is a Professor of English and an academic researcher teaching English literature at the University of Jendouba. She earned a BA in English language and literature and her “Agrégation” diploma from the Faculty of Letters, Humanities and Arts of La Manouba and the Ecole Normale Superieure de Tunis. From 2005 to 2009, she taught at the University of Gabes, and has been teaching at the University of Jendouba since 2009. She is member of the Young Arab Analyst Network International and co-founder and editor-in-chief of Moorings, a cultural Maghrebi magazine in English. She is an alumnus of the Civic Engagement and Leadership Fellowship, a program accommodated by Syracuse University, NY. Imen is author and contributor for HumanRightsTV.com and MideastYouth.com.

  • Rajaa Jalil

    Yes Imen. The uncertainty is defined by the absence of an “alternative” to the bad side of the prior regime. Furthermore, the more the political leaders are not showing any serious and planned political “solutions”, the scarier and “insecure” Tunisians will feel. Algeria has undergone a likewise situation in the late 80s, when Algerians revolted against the mono-party system and have called for more diversity, the situation has got worse for 15 years.