Magazine article New African

Tunisia: 'Change Will Take Time': A Year after the Coalition Government of Tunisia Was Elected, and Just under Two Years since Mohamed Bouazizi Set Himself Alight Sparking the Arab Spring, Intissar Kherigi, a Tunisian Human Rights Lawyer and Activist (and Daughter of Ennahda Leader Rached Ghannouchi), Writes in a Personal Capacity on the Challenges Facing Tunisia's New Government

Magazine article New African

Tunisia: 'Change Will Take Time': A Year after the Coalition Government of Tunisia Was Elected, and Just under Two Years since Mohamed Bouazizi Set Himself Alight Sparking the Arab Spring, Intissar Kherigi, a Tunisian Human Rights Lawyer and Activist (and Daughter of Ennahda Leader Rached Ghannouchi), Writes in a Personal Capacity on the Challenges Facing Tunisia's New Government

Article excerpt

THE WORLD WAS MESMERISED BY Tunisia's sudden sprint to revolution, as surprising as it was short. As the warm afterglow of unity and solidarity has faded away, the jubilant sprint has given way to a gruelling marathon.

Tunisians have now been left with the tough task of transforming their revolutionary spirit into a meaningful, structural change, and the country's first democratically elected government now faces the challenge of translating the revolution into new policies and concrete actions.

The challenges facing the government, made up mostly of former political prisoners and human rights activists, make the days of opposition seem easy in comparison. There is a high demand for jobs and reforms in the security, justice, police, civil service, education and transport sectors, amongst others.

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Freedom of expression has enabled, for the first time, a frank discussion of social issues, shining a light into the darkest corners and unleashing a process of discovery of decades of social problems that had festered beneath the cover of repression.

All this takes place against a background of continuous counter-revolution by those who refuse to play by the new rules of the game. Across government, a political battle of wills between reformists and entrenched forces is being pitched. Thus, facing the government is an array of diverse and contradictory demands.

These demands, which drove Tunisians to take to the streets in December 2010, can be reduced to two core themes--jobs and justice, the foundations of a dignified life and a just and equal society.

Job creation requires economic growth, which in turn requires stability. Justice, on the other hand, requires deep-seated reforms and the overturning of the existing system of corruption, patronage and impunity, which threatens to endanger the stability needed for economic growth. This tension forces the government to walk a tightrope between stability and reform.

These tensions are exemplified in the area of security reform, perhaps the most complex of the policy areas. The police and internal security forces were former President Ben Ali's most prized instrument of repression, and are widely reviled by Tunisians. It was police mistreatment--Mohammed Bouazizi's altercation with a policewoman--that sparked the entire revolution. Yet the continued functioning and cooperation of law enforcement agencies are critical to the stability and security of the nation; it is the key to Tunisia's economic wellbeing, particularly in the area of tourism, which contributes nearly 7% of GDP and 450,000 jobs.

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In the instability following the revolution, tourist numbers halved, falling from 7 million tourists in 2010 to 3.5 million in 2011, with approximately 100,000 jobs being lost as a result, and foreign reserve inflows slashed in half.

The first task of the new government was, therefore, to restore security. Doing this required relying on, and gaining the trust of, the internal security forces, while simultaneously removing and prosecuting those members of the security forces responsible for violations, and putting in motion a programme of serious reform to train the security forces in their new role of protecting the population as opposed to the government.

Transforming this huge dysfunctional beast--estimates put the security forces at 100,000 to 200,000, more than the UK's police force, for a population one-sixth of the size--has proven to be a minefield. The first task of the new interior minister, Ali Laarayedh--a political prisoner of 16 years previously tortured in the basement of the very ministry he is now heading--has been to get to grips with a labyrinthine network of security forces, including the police, National Guard, Presidential Guard, SWAT forces, and Judicial Police.

Within this network lie sub-networks of allegiance built by the former government to maintain its grip on security. …

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