What remains of the Arab Spring in Tunisia? TIP Magazine journalist Sonja Wiencke spoke to Sabry Yazidi, young activist and student in Tunis.

Tunisia is often portrayed as the “model” of the Arab spring, not only because it was the first country in the region to oust its despotic leader in 2011. Its peaceful revolution can also be seen as remarkably successful – in comparison to Egypt, that has re-installed military rule; Libya, where state power is hardly existing, or Syria http://www.inhandbag.com, where a bloody civil war has yet to find an end. But is it all that black and white? Have the hopes of the thousands of Tunisians demonstrating in 2011 for regime change and a better future been fulfilled? A closer look reveals many shades of grey.

On the bright side, Tunisia is the only case of the Arab Spring revolutions that successfully changed its leadership through reasonably free and fair elections, according to election observer Sabry. In 2014, this brought Mohamed Beji Caid Sebsi into the President’s office, an old ally of the exiled ruler Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Most of the Ben-Ali-era ruling elite is in fact still in positions of influence.

A major change has been freedom of media, freedom of expression and free speech. Media outlets have multiplied and are rather unrestricted, though also politically divided. Social media was partly blocked or filtered under Ben Ali as it served as a major tool for the Arab Spring. Social media is a very popular, now unrestricted, news source.

Sabry confirmed it’s now perfectly acceptable to criticise the government Replica Handbags, in contrast to the restrictions under Ben Ali. However, such criticism seemed to fall unto deaf ears: ministers responding to suggestions from the population hid behind promises and pretences, without acting on them. This led to general disillusionment among the population, with trust in politicians at lowest levels. Especially young activists who had the impression that politicians would use them during election campaigns, but only to ignore their needs and the promises they had made after polls closed.

Protesters march on Avenue Habib Bourguiba in downtown Tunis by L. Bryant - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Protesters march on Avenue Habib Bourguiba in downtown Tunis by L. Bryant – Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

What remains of the goals of the revolution?

According to Sabry, the protests in 2011 were against a crushing system, for freedom and dignity. For the large population of unemployed, predominantly young people, work opportunities were also an important topic. It’s indicative that in 2016, there were demonstrations in various Tunisian towns demanding government action on this front.

What about dignity and freedom?

Sabry volunteers with Amnesty International, with the Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights, and Youth Tunisian Leaders. The current focus for activists is to spread awareness of the importance of human rights among the general population.

“The majority of the people are not with the revolution, they say that the revolution only brought terrorism. They don’t believe in human rights or freedom any more, only the youth – well the majority of them – still do. So at the moment, we are doing some work to sensitise the people about the achievements of the revolution and try to convince them… sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail,” said Sabry.

The next step for the revolution is to turn more of the increasingly apathetic people in Tunisia into politically active citizens. As an example, Youth Leaders Tunis held regular debates to invite more participation from young people, and Tun’act organised youth parliaments in 2013 and 2014. However, there are dark spots threatening freedom in Tunisia.

“The government gave us a choice”, said Sabry, “between human rights and dignity on one and security on the other side.” The government was clearly prioritising the fight against terrorism in Tunisia over all attempts to give more opportunities to young people or to protect human rights.

“Human rights violations still exist”, she continued. “Especially torture and homicide.” Amnesty International confirmed that. In addition, there were arrests in breach of international law, and unexplained deaths in prison. The majority of the population is very indifferent with regards to human rights these days Replica Handbags, siding with the government’s view that security and fighting terrorism were the more important issues currently.

Sabry warned that this government strategy Replica Bags, cracking down on suspects at all costs Replica Handbags, would contravene international human rights law. In addition, this was unlikely to eradicate terrorism in Tunisia. Western media continues to paint an optimistic picture of Tunisia’s path to democracy. But Sabry is cautious, he said the country is still at the infant stage adapting to democracy.

What to conclude from these shades of grey?

“We are proud of our acts in 2011 but we have to work more and more to achieve our goals. If the people believed a little bit in human rights, freedom, dignity, we could be an example for the Arab world that are still living under dictatorship.”

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Sonja Wiencke

Sonja Wiencke

Sonja is currently studying at the University of Oxford for an MSc in Global Governance and Diplomacy, having graduated from a BA in European Studies in Passau, Germany. Her passions include human rights, environmental issues, hidden -isms in society, and improvised theatre. Sonja's dream is to work for the UN or the EEAS.