Tunisia struggles to implement reforms

December 22, 2012

Essia Atrous could hardly contain her emotions. The veteran journalist who has throughout her career witnessed much violence saw no reason for the anger that has been swirling for weeks in the southern town of Sidi Bouzid to spill into the central town of Siliana in late November.

“A sweet dream is being shattered because of the terribly negative attitudes of the very people who were supposed to nurture it,” she said. “What is really highly deplorable is that the country’s political leaders, officials and MPs are busy trading accusations and exchanging insults, be it at the parliament or through the media. The MPs have shown that they are still in the age of political adolescence and despicable competition and that they lack the sense of responsibility to complete the drafting of the constitution, the main reason for which they were elected in October 2011,” she said.

Tunisia, the home of the first Arab peaceful uprising that two years ago toppled the repressive regime, is still struggling to chart its way in the untested waters of freedom and democracy and to steady its political course.

Two governments, formed by prime ministers following the flight of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, were succeeded by a three-party government led by the secretary-general of Al Nahda, the moderate Islamist formation that dominated the parliamentary elections.

However, the government, made up of Islamist and liberal ministers, and the Constituent Assembly, tasked with drafting the new constitution, have repeatedly come under fire from people angered by their slow progress and for failing to resolve huge social and economic problems, despite election campaign pledges of tangible reforms.

“The people are angry because their immediate needs are not being addressed,” Ebrahim Qassas, a vocal lawmaker, said. “Common people want to have jobs, food on their plate and respect in their lives. They do not really care about political details. Their real needs should be the top priority.”

Rafiq Bin Abdullah, another journalist, complained that the democratic transition has been painfully slow.

“The process is repeatedly stalled and when it moves, it is extremely slow,” he said. “The Constituent Assembly has not been able to make the right decision to ensure a smooth transition, the neutrality of the administration, the existence of fully independent agencies. Many hot issues, such as addressing the corruption that had plagued several sectors under the fallen regime, and pushing reforms forward have yet to be addressed,” he said.

For Essia, the country’s MPs must recover the lost time without further delay.

“They have been in charge for more than one year, but they seemed to focus their efforts and energy on exchanging accusations, doubting one another’s patriotism and breaking all forms of trust. This is a dangerous miasma and Tunisia, where it all started, has formidable challenges.”

MPs should avoid falling into a form of exhibitionism by shedding tears in public or making pompous announcements that they would go on strike, she said.

“Such attitudes decry a dangerous level of weakness and an alarming inability to rise to the challenge of fulfilling the aspirations of the citizens who are withering from the pain. The lawmakers and the politicians should bring about real changes that will save the country from political enticements and from the open struggle for power,” she said.

The example of President Barack Obama inviting Republican nominee Mitt Romney, his political rival for the presidency, following the announcement of the results, to forget the past and build a positive cooperation based on common views should be emulated by politicians and lawmakers in Tunisia, who should drop their dangerous and nation-crippling bickering and avoid prolonging uncertainties.

“It is crucial for Tunisia now to make the sound choice to avoid sliding into further losses. The only way forward is to be driven by genuine patriotism and to focus on the nation’s highest interests. We do not want tears. Tunisians will not find a Nelson Mandela because there is within each Tunisian a Mandela who dreams to see his country has opened up to include all its sons and daughters, regardless of their opinions and attitudes. Exactly like the White House when it embraces the winner and the loser in the US presidential elections,” she said.




About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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