Arab Spring
In 2010, the first of a series of protests and uprisings that would sweep across several countries took place. The Arab Spring, as it became known, began in Tunisia and spread to fellow nations such as Egypt and Libya. The purpose of this was to restructure these governments and bring about cultural liberation. In Tunisia and Egypt, uprisings successfully overthrew the government. With the old regimes dismantled, people believed that democracy would prosper in the region. In Libya specifically, citizens overthrew the government, causing the state to devolve into an ongoing civil war. Other states have seen more positive results.

No Absolute Victories

Many have considered Tunisia successful in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. In 2013, Tunisia passed a law with the intent of exposing government abuse and holding the abusers accountable. It founded the Truth and Dignity Commission in order to handle such cases by 2014. Over the course of four years, the commission opened 62,720 cases and held 49,654 private interviews. Finally, in May 2019, the commission began passing cases through 13 special courts.

However, Tunisia’s commission was not the first of its kind. It followed in the footsteps of several others before it, as seen in Chile and South Africa. When the commission’s motion to review government abuse cases ended, several key figures returned to power in 2014. People construed this as a step backward from the Arab Spring with the return of earlier members of government resulting in a political atmosphere hostile to past reflection. While government abuses are less common than they were prior to 2010, such societal issues continue to occur. Unreformed laws from the old regime continue to jail vulnerable people without free-speech protections.

Poverty in Conflict

Poverty and unequal distribution of employment opportunities helped precipitate the uprisings of the Arab Spring. The income gap across the population was so severe that poverty all but completely swallowed up the middle class. Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor who had endured constant harassment from law enforcement and struggled to make a livable wage, set himself on fire in front of the governor’s offices. This act brought the Arab Spring across Tunisia and immortalized Bouazizi as a symbol of the revolution.

In the case of the Arab Spring, conflict was a means for the people to bring about the changes they wanted to see in their countries. However, even when the long-term consequences were to the people’s benefit, the immediate aftermath of the uprising had its issues. Poverty makes an area more susceptible to conflict and war by undermining and weakening government institutions, overloading welfare services and diminishing economic performance. When conflict breaks out, the poor are often most vulnerable. Welfare goods and services often go toward the war effort, causing agriculture to suffer as a result of land destruction and security measures for protecting the elite.

In December 2010, a largely impoverished population overthrew the Tunisian government in a violent conflict that killed 338 people. The people dismantled the government, leading to the dissolution of political police and the relinquishing of assets back to the people. Despite this occurrence, the Tunisian people faced an uphill battle, with the need to restore and maintain normalcy remaining.

The International Labour Organization (ILO)

The International Labour Organization (ILO) emerged in 1919 in a partnership effort to set labor standards and develop policies intended to help people work in respectable conditions. Upon identifying the income gap in Tunisia as a large contributor to starting Arab Spring, the ILO works closely with local organizations. It strives to provide more lucrative work opportunities for the people. Specifically, the ILO initiated a project that will install a covered market in Sidi Bouzid, the sight of Bouazizi’s self-immolation. This program will ensure that vendors may gather to sell their wares in better conditions.

The ILO partnered with the E.U. to create the Programme to Support the Development of Underprivileged Areas (AZD), which teaches locals how to farm. The program has educated almost 100 people to prune and graft fruit trees, as well as to transport their crops to the market effectively. This organization does not limit itself to agriculture; the ILO serves also in teaching technical skills to women. As a result, increased numbers of women have the ability to self-provide and are becoming empowered in society.

Work programs will not solve all of the issues Tunisia’s been grappling with for the past decade. The country must still address issues of government corruption, regional stability and the rate of poverty. In the meantime, however, such programs help in returning some of the power back to the people – another holdover perhaps, from the Arab Spring.

Catherine Lin
Photo: Flickr

 
Tunisia stands as the only Arab country to have undergone democratization due to the Arab Spring protests that shook the region in the 2010s. Fueled by widespread poverty and a low standard of living, along with many other factors, the nearly month-long campaign of civil disobedience led to the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. However, installing a functioning democracy has not alleviated all of the problems that Tunisians faced pre-revolution.

The Jasmine Revolution

In December of 2010, Mohammed Bouazizi, a Sidi Bouzid fruit vendor whose goods had recently been confiscated by the local authority, self-immolated outside of the local governor’s office. His sentiments echoed amongst many frustrated with poverty in Tunisia, corruption and the suppression of freedoms. Leading up to the revolution, an increasing number of middle-class citizens expressed dissatisfaction with their living standards. Despite an approximate 7% increase in GDP per capita from 2008 to 2010, the percentage of the country’s middle class that rated themselves satisfied with their current and future prospects dropped from 24% to 14%. Due to other factors such as government corruption, which is not accurately reflected by metrics like GDP, Tunisians felt as if they had little to gain from their country’s economic growth. As a result of these factors, many Tunisians took to the streets soon after Bouazizi’s defiance act.

As riots escalated and protestors were dying under live fire from police, President Ben Ali appeared on national television and made some concessions, reducing food prices and internet usage restrictions. These remarks proved too little too late, however, and the protests continued. By January 14, state media reported the dissolution of Ben Ali’s regime and the establishment of legislative elections. As unrest continued, Ben Ali fled the country. While new leadership took the reformed government’s reins, unrest continued as many of these new politicians were once members of Ben Ali’s Democratic Constitutional Rally. Eventually, Mohammed Ghannouchi, the acting prime minister, announced several figures from other parties in the interim government. He also reemphasized the new government’s pledged efforts to maintain economic prosperity and freer speech. Eventually, the Democratic Constitutional Rally dissolved in the face of continued protests over the inclusion of politicians from the old regime. These reforms within the Tunisian government stood as one of the major catalysts for the Arab Spring protests, a series of demonstrations across the Arab world that demanded alterations to many standing regimes.

Fundamental Changes?

While the Tunisian government changed drastically in the face of civil uprising, Tunisian citizens still face some of the issues that plagued them prior. Socially, there has been continued strife between Islamism and secularism in the country, with violence spreading throughout the country in 2012 regarding the connections between religion and government. While secular parties have slightly outpaced Islamist parties, there have been problems with fundamentalist violence both domestically and abroad—Tunisians have joined terrorist organizations such as ISIS in Syria, Iraq and Lybia, making up large percentages of their foreign recruits. Additionally, terrorist groups have staged attacks on Tunisian soil, attacking institutions such as museums and resorts.

Economic troubles have also challenged Tunisians—since 2011, nearly 100,000 highly skilled workers and professionals have migrated out of the country. Despite the changes in government, unemployment is still a significant issue. Nearly 23% of university graduates were unemployed right before the onset of the revolution. That figure has since risen to 29%. Government corruption and protracted bureaucracy have done less than initially desired in helping the Tunisian middle and lower classes. Unfortunately, some Tunisians have started to doubt the new government’s effectiveness, with only 46% saying that “democracy is preferable to any other kind of government” in 2018, dropping from 71% in 2013. Moreover, there has been some support from the international community in alleviating these issues.

The International Labour Organization

A wing of the United Nations, the International Labour Organization has devoted resources towards alleviating some of the poverty in Tunisia and societal issues facing Tunisians. Some initiatives include construction projects, such as a covered market in Sidi Bouzid. These initiatives provide vendors more favorable conditions to sell their goods and provide construction workers with employment. In Regueb, a village near Sidi Bouzid, the ILO implemented the Programme to Support the Development of Underprivileged Areas, providing around 100 individuals with agricultural skills. Mahmoud Ben Romdhane, the Tunisian Minister of Social Affairs, has endorsed the collaboration of local organizations and the ILO in improving the conditions of Tunisian citizens.

Many challenges face Tunisians in the near future in alleviating the societal and economic issues that stand before the country. However, the success of Tunisians in standing for a reformed government inspired generations across the world. With support from the international community and dedication within the country, a bright future may lie ahead in alleviating poverty in Tunisia.

– Samuel Levine
Photo: Flickr