30 November 2017
On December 17, 2010, Tunisia became the forerunner and the beacon of the Arab Awakening with the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Sidi Bouzid and the dethroning of the Tunisian president, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali 28 days later. Today, seven years later, Tunisia is the sole example remaining of the hopes and aspirations engendered by those events. This edition of The Middle East in London on Tunisia comes, therefore, at a particularly apposite moment in the evolution of the political and security architecture of the region where early aspirations for radical liberalisation have been rolled back in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria and frustrated in Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and the Gulf.
In Insight, I provide an overview of the current political and economic situation in Tunisia, concluding that Tunisia’s political, constitutional and social gains depend on the survival of its revitalised civil society. Mohamed-Salah Omri highlights the importance of civil society organisations in his discussion of the role played by the Union Générale des Travailleurs Tunisiens. He then looks at the rebirth of Tunisia’s literary scene and the emergence of the novel in dialectical, as opposed to literary, Arabic. This is a theme also addressed by Nathanael Mannone in his discussion of Tunisia’s post 2011 cultural environment where he highlights the tensions that exist between state and author.
Anne Wolf describes the frustrations of the secular political scene and the danger that the crisis within Nidaa Tounes – the dominant party in the ruling coalition – and its predilection for politicians and political actors from Tunisia’s authoritarian past represents for the liberalisation achieved in 2011. Rory McCarthy identifies the role and ambitions of Tunisia’s powerful religious movements, particularly of al-Nahda and chronicles its transformation into a national conservative party. Zoe Petkanas examines the gains made by the woman’s movement, especially within the political sphere where, in the National Assembly, women now play a key role despite attempts by the president and Nidaa Tounes to dominate the gender agenda.
Max Gallien addresses the crucial role played by the informal sector of the economy which now employs 60 per cent of working men and 83 per cent of working women under the age of forty, particularly in the impoverished south of the country, and produces more than one third of the country’s GDP. Its continued dominance within the economy is a measure of the failure of the formal economy to respond to the economic crisis that followed the events of 2011 and of the key role that it will play in the future. It is a feature that highlights the combination of hope and despair that characterises Tunisia today and tells us much about the immense difficulty of achieving real revolutionary change in a hostile world.
Lastly, in this issue we announce the winners of the magazine’s 2017 photo competition. Congratulations to our winners and thank you to all those who participated.
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