Tunis, Stories of 10 years ! : Tunisia, ten years after the revolution, the same demands with more chaos

The Tunisian revolution is still celebrated by the West as the unique success story of the “Arab
Spring,” However, the enthusiasm about this turning point in Tunisian history is at its lowest point
among most citizens. This lack of excitement over a major historical event that marked not only
Tunisia, but the region as well, is most explained by a recent poll showing that 90 % of Tunisians think
that the country is going the wrong direction. But what can explain this total disappointment in the
revolution and hopelessness over its future?

During the last decade in Tunisia, the only stability was instability. Since January 14, 2011, until the
Tunisia has had 9 prime ministers and more than 400 other cabinet ministers making the average
time spent in office for each just two months. This political instability is also reflected in the partisan
scene, where major political parties vanish within just one political cycle, mainly because of personal
interests, political leaders’ ego, outrageous internal fights, and incapacity to deliver a clear political
identity. This deficiency in political parties led to constant changes in the parliamentary blocs as its
members change affiliations on a regular basis, which made the parliament unable to provide a clear
ruling majority or a strong ground to pass important bills to address the growing economic issues
facing the country. Unfortunately, the chaotic political scene has had an extremely negative impact
on public opinion, which linked democracy with instability and chaos.

In Tunisia, institutions were considered a reliable partner in the democratic transition. However, 10
years after the revolution these strong assets to this new democracy are being weakened for several
reasons. The parliament, for instance, is the institution that Tunisians trust the least and its President
Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of the Islamic party Ennahdah, is the least trusted politician in Tunisia
according to polls. The parliament is also the place where you see the most ferocious political fights
between members of different political parties that sometimes turn folkloric and violent, and all this
toxic environment is being transmitted to the Tunisian people livestream on Facebook.

Adding to this chaotic situation, the President of the Republic Kais Saied seems to be unsatisfied by
the limited power given to him by the 2014 constitution. Saied, who is a retired constitutional law
university instructor and a newcomer to the political world, made an unexpected political ascent by
promising Tunisians to change the current political system and fight corruption. In this sole mission
the president was hostile towards parliament and political parties. Thus, the battleground of this
power struggle between the legislative body and the presidency is the cabinet. After the parliament
failed to pass a cabinet following elections in 2019, the President appointed former Minister of
Finance Elyes Fakhfakh as Prime Minister. But Fakhfakh resigned after just 4 months over conflict-of-
interest allegations. As a result, the president appointed Hichem Mechichi, who is an outsider himself
and a former advisor to Saied. But Mechichi struggled to exercise full control over his cabinet, which
was selected mainly by Kais Saied and remained close to him. After just a few months, the Prime
Minister decided to reduce the influence of the President and exercise his full prerogatives through a
partial cabinet reshuffle. Seeing this as an act of defiance, the President responded by refusing to
swear in the new ministers, a ceremonial but mandatory step to take office. Without naming them,
Kaïs Saied declares that five of the appointed ministers are affected by conflicts of interest.

Since Tunisia does not have a constitutional court, that was supposed to be established by 2015, The
President declared himself as highest constitutional authority in the country and then the only one
allowed to interpret the constitution. Saied used the oath ceremony as a veto power, setting a new
and dangerous precedent. After consulting different constitutional scholars who all confirmed that
the act of the president is unconstitutional but only the Constitutional Court would solve this crisis,
he decided to keep the same government and give five current ministers the duty to work
simultaneously in two ministries until further notice.

The Tunisian revolution that broke out in the marginalized region of Sidi Bouzid that suffers from
harsh economic issues, and people in the streets called for economic prosperity and a better share of
wealth only to find themselves after 10 living in more poverty. The country is witnessing its worst
economic crisis in modern times with an unprecedented growth rate of -6,5 in 2020. It is true that
the coronavirus has aggravated the economic situation, but the management of the national
economy post-revolution was catastrophic and reckless. The external debt in Tunisian dinars went
from 31.1 in 2010 to 108.7 in September 2020 comparing to the GDP it went from 48.7% to 101.1%.
Unemployment, one of the major economic challenges for Tunisia went from 14% in 2010 to 17.4%
in 2021. Inflation is another huge problem in the country, rising from 4,5 in 2010 to 5,6 in 2021.
This frustrating situation left many young highly educated Tunisians feel that their country has no
good future, at least in the mid-term. Indeed, the latest figures from the Organization for Economic
Co-operation and Development report show that Tunisia has recorded, since 2011, the migration of
95,000 young people, 84% of them mainly in Europe (mostly France and Germany), in the sectors of
medicine, engineering, computer science, and higher education. One in three departures is
motivated by the poor living conditions in Tunisia, corruption (67%), the uncertain future (52%),
bureaucracy (42%), the climate of freedom (26%), political instability (24%) and a better professional
opportunity (a salary often multiplied by 6 or 7 with the current devaluation of the dinar).
The country that already has a complicated political and economic situation and was certainly not
prepared for the COVID 19 crisis. Since the outbreak of the virus Tunisia had 4 ministers of health, a
lack of stability motivated by political calculus that did not skip this important portfolio from the
general chaos, leaving its apparatus unfit to face a problem of this magnitude. Tunisia was very
effective with the first wave, after a complete shutdown for almost more than two months and had
less than 50 deaths. As the country opened and people felt like the virus was not that bad after all,
the third wave hit brutally the shores of Tunisia starting from September 2020 which cannot be
explained solely by the acceleration of the testing campaign.

Despite a four-day general containment followed by a fifteen-day partial containment in mid-January
and a curfew since October, the country even reached its record of 100 dead in twenty-four hours on
January 21. The cases of death are skyrocketing and until February 18, 2021 the death toll reached
7,717, which makes Tunisia the country with the second highest death rate on the continent, behind
South Africa. Tunisia is still in the midst of a one century pandemic with no clear plan of how to
address this unprecedented sanitary problem through vaccination. The ministry of health did not
provide any information about the vaccination or whatsoever after they declared that Tunisia would
receive the first vaccine does starting from February 15, but until 19 the government remains silent
and Tunisians are anxious that they did not yet start the vaccination.

The timing of the Covid-19 crisis could not be worst for Tunisians, as they were already dealing with a
growing chaos and frustration leaving the country vulnerable and poorer, which explains why some
Tunisians are unapologetically nostalgic for the dictatorship era where things seemed to be more in
control in terms of stability and economy. Meanwhile, it is clear that the vacuum of leadership is
waiting for someone to fill it. Liberal movement could be an appealing alternative.

*Meriem Fatnassi