This article was translated by the ACRPS Translation and English Editing Department. The original Arabic version can be found here.
Between April 19 and April 23, 2011, the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) held a scholarly symposium in Doha under the title: “Revolutions, Reform, and Democratic Transition in the Arab Homeland: From the Perspective of the Tunisian Revolution”. The symposium discussed the background of the Tunisian Revolution, its context, and the challenges of democratic transition, whose possibilities were examined through a number of research papers and presentations by Tunisian political leaders and party secretaries, and the exposition of field experiences by activists who participated in the success of the revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt. The symposium also witnessed the participation of a select group of Arab academics, researchers, and intellectuals who follow Tunisian affairs.
- Dr. Azmi Bishara: Egypt and Tunisia’s revolutions actualized an Arab democratic awareness … reform has become an inescapable necessity
- Dr. Fares Braizat: Revolution revived nationalist sentiments … regimes are required to offer real democracy
- Samir Makdessi: Interpreting the Arab democracy deficit and the conditions of democratic transition
- Jamal Barout: Authoritarian development: the end of a model
- Testimonials of activists from the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions on the process of change
- Testimonials from Tunisian Revolution activists
- Testimonials from Egyptian Revolution activists
- Tunisian party leaders on democratic transition and their visions for the future
Between April 19 and April 23, 2011, the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) held a scholarly symposium in Doha under the title: “Revolutions, Reform, and Democratic Transition in the Arab Homeland: From the Perspective of the Tunisian Revolution”. The symposium discussed the background of the Tunisian Revolution, its context, and the challenges of democratic transition, whose possibilities were examined through a number of research papers and presentations by Tunisian political leaders and party secretaries, and the exposition of field experiences by activists who participated in the success of the revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt. The symposium also witnessed the participation of a select group of Arab academics, researchers, and intellectuals who follow Tunisian affairs.
The ACRPS is publishing a summary of the presentations made during the symposium in a comprehensive file that covers all facets of the Revolution in Tunisia, and presents varied opinions regarding future challenges to the success of revolutions in the Arab homeland.
The following is a summary of the presentations:
Dr. Azmi Bishara: Egypt and Tunisia’s revolutions actualized an Arab democratic awareness … reform has become an inescapable necessity
Dr. Azmi Bishara, General Director of the ACRPS, spoke at the opening session of the symposium. Bishara said in his presentation, which was titled “The Arab and the Tunisian in the Tunisian Revolution,” that the Tunisian experience represents a test-case for understanding the progression of events in the Arab homeland and to understand the impetus behind the revolutions – despite the difficulty of historicizing events that are so recent. He proposed that the intellectual analysis and efforts of Tunisians and Tunisian elites during this phase could be centered on understanding the great transformation that is taking place in the region. At the beginning of the Tunisian Revolution, Bishara added, a false claim spread to the effect that what took place had a uniquely Tunisian, and not Arab, character, consisting of a Tunisian trend to be linked to Europe and to a specific evolution of civil society in that country. In fact, Dr. Bishara insisted, events in Tunisia were objectively linked to the Arab homeland as a whole, and were the heralding of the end of an era in the region and the beginning of a new era whose contours remain unclear; there was no clear scholarly prediction regarding what would take place after the dead-end in which most Arab regimes had found themselves.
Bishara affirmed that the events in Tunisia, Egypt, and other Arab countries point to the common cause for revolution in the Arab homeland; differences, on the other hand, consist of minor details. The case of Tunisia is often presented as that of the ever-present centralized state, despite the fact that its history and geography did not always match, and despite the modernization it witnessed under Bourguiba and Ben Ali, the separation of state institutions from civil society institutions, and the enactment of “structural differentiation” in form and functions, which allowed the making of a distinction between the state and the regime. That was especially the case with the army behaving as a representative of the state, and not of the regime or the ruling family. A similar phenomenon was also present in Egypt; the distinction that was established between the state and the regime eased the fall of both heads of regime.
Therefore, Bishara rejected the possibility of “cloning” the experience of the two countries in the rest of the Arab states, arguing that “there is no societal homogeneity that permits a repetition of the Tunisian and Egyptian cases, because there is no clear institutional separation in each Arab country”. He pointed to the fact that reliance on communal and blood allegiances to guarantee loyalties in Arab republics was due to despotism; he added that another shared character among Arab regimes consisted of security chiefs assuming political roles, which was part of the political decay shared by a number of Arab regimes. He explained: “What used to take place in the shade began to be proudly performed in public, which dovetailed with the spread of conspicuous corruption that began to be described as ‘success’.” He also noted that one of the shared characteristics of Arab regimes was the rise of a new class of businessmen who did not originate from the bourgeois class, but through connections and proximity to the ruler, and being organically linked to him. Bishara illustrated that by citing an old adage, expressed by Ibn Khaldun as “the transformation of hypocrisy into power, and power into money”.
Bishara argued that the Arab citizen in the past two decades, especially with the rise of the open satellite channels, formed an awareness that rejects corruption and the coupling of business and governance, which unified the feelings of Arabs in rejection of these regimes. He warned that the popularity and improvised character of Arab revolutions – without clear leaderships – is due to the phenomenon of the calcification of the opposition and its weakening by the regime. In other words, the traditional opposition forces, due to security persecution and their forcible separation from society, have become part of the ruling regime, or an accessory in the general structure of the political system. This raises a question over who should lead change or form an alternative to the existing regime; such has been the case in most Arab countries.
Similarities between post-revolution Tunisia and Egypt, regarding gradual transition to democracy, are due to the fact that revolutions do not lead to automatic democracy. Bishara lauded the revolts and their roles in the formation of a democratic awareness that will decide the fate of many Arab countries, for the success of democracy in those two countries will affect other Arab states and the political directions of existing regimes.
Bishara stressed that demonstrating in public squares does not always lead to the fall of a regime, warning against unwise attempts to unconsciously imitate the experiences of Tunisia and Egypt, which could lead to disasters and disappointments because variations exist between Arab countries, especially in the matter of homogeneity, with the Arab Levant being religiously diverse and non-homogeneous – with colonialism having had a role in the “creation” of minorities – as opposed to the Arab Maghreb, which seems more homogeneous despite the presence of Berbers and Amazighs.
Bishara said that clashing with the regime creates fissures in society if key parts of society are linked to the regime, either structurally or through interests. He stressed that variations within each Arab society need to be taken into consideration with the purpose of understanding Arab revolutions and the potentials for change in each individual country. He noted that revolution does not always transport the people from a rhetorical to a material state as in the case of Egypt, but that genuinely popular revolt is an unstoppable force, as was the case in Tunisia and Egypt. He refused to view subsequent events in Libya, Yemen, and Syria, such as fear-mongering with the threat of civil war, as being enough to convince peoples of acquiescing to live under despotic rule.
Regarding the available options, Bishara said that Arab regimes are faced with two choices: either proceeding with reform, or being forced to do so. He warned that the revolutionary condition in the Arab Levant cannot accept the current regimes despite threats of sectarian and tribal strife, adding that the real alternatives in that region are the necessity of reform and its inevitability.
Dr. Fares Braizat: Revolution revived nationalist sentiments … regimes are required to offer real democracy
Also in the opening session, Dr. Fares Braizat, head of the Public Opinion Program at ACRPS, said that the Tunisian Revolution has posed a major challenge to numerous postulates adopted by academic and political elites in the past few decades. These include Arab societies’ inability to establish democracies, the perpetual survival of Arab regimes, the inevitability of dependence upon international powers to achieve democratic transition, and the necessity of gradual, calm, moderated, and balanced transition to democracy.
Braizat affirmed that the brisk spread of the Tunisian Revolution constitutes another challenge to the identity of the Arab state, which had presented itself as a politically independent unit from its Arab surrounding, with the spread of slogans such as “Egypt First,” “Kuwait First,” and “Jordan First,” only to discover that Arab solidarity with the Tunisian revolt – in word and in deed – extended from the far corners of the Arab homeland to its beating heart and center. Revolts erupted in Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Syria; similar revolts demanded radical reforms in Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, Bahrain, Oman, and Kuwait; additionally, the Lebanese and Iraqis are leading an uprising against sectarianism, calling for a civic state while Palestinians are calling for an end to disunity. Braizat posed a question: would these events have happened without the Tunisian Revolution?
“We are in a new era that merits all of our care, devotion, and commitment,” he said. “We live in a phase where the paths are clear to Arab societies and states. In societies we find a revival of Arab nationalist sentiments, and an advance of civic democratic discourse. On the level of regimes, possibilities extend along two paths: real democracies in republics, and constitutional monarchies in hereditary regimes.”
In his presentation, titled “Is democracy a demand of Arab public opinion?,” Braizat predicted that the objective answer to that question would come from a reconsideration of the importance of public opinion surveys, which were made largely absent in the age of Arab despotic regimes, making it impossible to know the opinion of the public regarding government policies.
Nonetheless, surveys showed that Arab public opinion was no different from those of other societies in its definition of democracy and citizenship, providing answers comparable to responses in the United States and Japan. Surveys conducted before the Tunisian revolt – and its spread to Egypt and other Arab countries – revealed that participation in governance and demands of oversight and combating corruption were a growing popular Arab demand, with some variations in some regions witnessing an increase in sectarian tensions.
Dr. Lutfi Tarshouna: The authoritarian system of rule and despotic perversion
Authoritarian regimes are defined negatively compared to democratic and totalitarian systems; they are regimes that do not provide democracy’s requirements, such as political participation, pluralism, and peaceful alternation of power through free, transparent, and competitive elections.
Authoritarianism is also not totalitarianism, which seeks, based on an ideological theory, to erase all features of difference and plurality, aiming at the establishment of a political society based on total unity at all levels – political, intellectual, cultural, and even in the field of race – while exercising full censorship over society and monopolizing all institutions of the state and civil society, which guarantees complete control over individuals and their thoughts and beliefs.
Tarshouna argued that the authoritarian regime has certain specific characteristics, namely: limited pluralism of political parties, limited competition over power, a constrained space for political participation, the personalization of power, and its monopoly by an individual or a minority.
Failure in transitioning from authoritarianism to democracy is related to the level of economic development and the value of oil receipts, which afford the state an enhanced capacity to absorb political and social crises. Democratic transition from authoritarianism also depends on the (mechanical) solidarity that dominates society, the nature of authoritarian relations on the family level, cultural variables (which relate more to Arab culture than to Islam), the level of education, and the degree of the edification of authority.
Based on these variables, Tunisia had seemed the most likely among Arab countries to achieve democratic transition, due to the availability of positive indicators – according to the standards of democratic transition. However, Tarshouna said, the structure of authoritarianism in Tunisia, and its longevity, showed the relative character of these variables and, in transition, of the value of the democratic transition literature in dealing with Arab reality. Authoritarianism in Tunisia, and in some other countries, became an exception within the “Arab exception” due to the presence of numerous positive indicators on the one hand, and the persistence of authoritarianism – which evolved an extreme capacity to maneuver and reproduce itself – on the other.
Under Bourguiba, the edifices of the modern state were put in place. National unity was reinforced, a sense of collective belonging was nurtured, society developed on social, economic and cultural levels, and the legal status of women was enhanced with the promulgation of the personal status law. On the other hand, this development of society and reinforcement of the state went hand-in-hand with the personalization of power, the closing of the political field, the tightening of the space for political participation, the abolishment of multipartism, and the imposition of tight censorship over the media and professional unions, leading to their mobilization in the service of the regime.
Ben Ali assumed power in an environment of political stasis and social tension, announcing numerous reforms which led to several amendments to the constitution, most notably in 1989, 1997, and 2002. Those reforms officially sought, as a general rule, to enshrine the ideals of the republic, a state of law, institutions, respect for human rights, the expansion of political participation, deepening political pluralism, and competition over power through elections. However, Ben Ali’s era was marked by several crises and ironies – aside from certain successes on the level of economic development: a crisis of political participation despite the regular holding of elections and successive political reforms, a developmental crisis despite some successes on the level of economic indicators, a crisis of legitimacy, and a crisis of rule due to the security approach in dealing with the matter of public liberties and human rights. All of these crises led to the explosion on January 14, 2011, bringing down the regime of Ben Ali and, behind it, the Tunisian structure of despotism and authoritarianism.
Dr. Aisha al-Tayeb: The social and economic background of the Tunisian Revolution
This analysis of the Tunisian Revolution, in its different aspects, centered on a main thesis that stressed the importance of social and economic dimensions of Tunisia’s revolt. To explicate this thesis, the analysis relied on a socio-historical approach that used comparative logic by contrasting the protest movement in Sidi Bouzid, which developed into a revolution with paramount consequences, to similar protest movements in the country’s interior during recent years. Those included the events in the Mining Basin and the border town of Ben Gardan, some of which lasted longer and were more sustained than in Sidi Bouzid, but they did not evolve and did not see their geographic and social reaches expand.
Despite the fact that the policy of creating a competitive economy and striking free-trade agreements produced a relative improvement in economic figures and general growth indices, it also placed the Tunisian economy under a host of increasing pressures on the labor market and led to uneven growth between different parts of the country – social taxation increased and a proportion of society was excluded from the benefits of growth.
In discussing unemployment, it should be noted that despite official announcements of great improvements in the indices of employment during the 10th development plan, unemployment figures have shown a notable increase among those holding high degrees whose numbers rose in 2007-2008 to 127,800 from 102,300 in 2007.
Unemployment among the highly educated began a sharp rise in 1994, when it registered 10.9%, reaching 18.4% between 2001 and 2007. It should also be noted that unskilled unemployment, which represented 25% of general unemployment in 1994, shrank to a mere 5% of total unemployment in 2007. In parallel, the proportion of high-school graduates among general unemployment rose from 24% to 40%. As for unemployment among the college-educated, its proportion rose tenfold in the same period, with its share of total unemployment rising from 2% to 20% between 1994 and 2007.
Despite this reality, official statistics affirmed an improvement in the standard of living and a decrease in poverty among Tunisians. The official discourse creatively sought to exploit these figures politically by pointing at the success of Tunisian social policy in containing poverty. The game of numbers and misleading standards, as well as the myth of Tunisia’s decent international rank in some fields, while seemingly convincing in some of their aspects, were mostly not true, including for those who labored to manufacture these numbers and design those rankings.
In general, the myth of the “economic miracle” remained an illusion and an official hymn that was constantly used by the political authorities in Tunisia to enhance the image of the regime and affirm the validity of developmental choices over the past two decades. That myth, while seemingly convincing at first, quickly lost its allure when contrasted with a different local reality and daily life, which contradicted it. The average Tunisian citizen, who used to be described as neutral towards political power as long as his daily bread was secure, began to mock the trope of “Tunisian economic prosperity” in the face of rising prices for staple goods and fuel, and the constant rises in the cost of living, including key areas like transportation and the consumption of water, electricity and gas. These factors had serious effects on all social classes, including those from the middle class with stable salaries.
The economic and social reality that remained untouched by the “economic miracle” would exhibit itself through stories of deprivation, extreme poverty, long-term unemployment, stories of the “boats of death” and the drowning of young men seeking to illegally enter Europe, the spread of companies selling emigration dreams to those seeking work and quick wealth. While the northern and coastal regions seemed less in touch with those realities, regions of the interior were more exposed to it – and more vocal about it.
Dr. al-Mouldi Lahmar: The civic character and the popular depth of the Revolution
The Tunisian Revolution was characterized by its peacefulness and its strong popular support. In order to identify the anthropological, historical, and sociological conditions that produced that double phenomenon, two ideas must be elucidated: first, the historic depth of the project to resolve political conflict in Tunisia through the idea of a social pact – with French colonialism having achieved one of the main conditions for this project by disarming the Tunisian population; second, the vertical and horizontal dissemination of social, economic, and political damage due to the policies of the former regime, especially in regions of the interior where the Revolution flared. This led to the degradation of the regime’s legitimacy in most social circles, along with an expansion of the populace’s rejection of despotism, the monopoly of resources, and rampant clientilism in the running of public affairs. This gave additional value to the slogans raised by the demonstrators everywhere, which were slogans with which any citizen could identify: dignity, justice, freedom, democracy, and the right to work.
Among the phenomena that piqued the attention of political analysts was that the Tunisian revolt did not adopt signs and symbols identifying the movement with a specific social or political affiliation; protesters, for instance, did not raise placards indicating that their revolt was based on labor, the peasants, the bourgeoisie, religion, or regional/racial belongings. The “loose” slogans that emerged could attract any citizen who was dissatisfied with the general conditions in the country, regardless of his or her social and intellectual origins: the right to work, freedom, democracy, justice, and dignity. The announced goals of the revolution did not include any specific programs that might have caused – at least during the heat of protests and demonstrations – dissent among the protesters. This led to a unity of purpose among all participants, who coalesced under the banner of the “people”: “the people wants the fall of the government,” or, to the president, “Leave, leave”.
On the sociological level, this phenomenon relates to at least three main issues: first, that most sections of Tunisian society were adversely affected by the general policies adopted in the country, whether on the economic level, or in the field of culture and the repression of political and intellectual freedoms, or even on the social level.
Second, the ruling political elite had transformed – due to its persistence, unchallenged, in power without any oversight or competition – into a tight group of individuals, families and clients that had lost its organizational and moral capacity to connect with the vast majority of society.
Third, the social cohesion supported by the policy of building of a modern national state during the 1960s and 1970s made governorates and provinces, as well as the distinctions between the rural and the urban, into non-functional categories in the mobilization of the masses, who were deeply affected by the country’s economic and social crisis.
All of these factors converged to produce the popularity of the Tunisian Revolution; when Muhammad al-Bouazizi performed his now-famous act of self-immolation in the heart of Sidi Bouzid, the aforementioned factors were crisscrossing in a unique manner: unemployment, deprivation, the loss of hope, and deep frustration.
The ruling party lost all its traditional ideological glitter. Belonging to it meant the pursuit of personal interest or seeking the protection of the powerful in the bureaucracy. The security apparatus became a tool of political repression in a socio-cultural terrain whose rural character long served to prevented the emergence of powerful syndicates that might have spurred collective action. This Tunisian social milieu, on the other hand, saw a revival of the values of solidarity and mutual support among neighbors and blood relatives alike. Local administration lost its credibility due to its corruption, with employees going so far as to insult the dignity of citizens in the public space.
To summarize the flow of events, the Revolution went through four major stages: first were the protests that flared in the mining regions of Qafsa and then in the far south, near the borders with Libya, in 2008. These protests put the mediocre political performance of the former regime on display for all to see. The second stage was the explosion in Sidi Bouzid towards the end of 2010, which spread like wildfire in the nearby regions of the mid-west. The third stage was heralded by the entry of major coastal cities into the protests, including Sfax, Sousse and Bizerte. The last stage was the involvement of the Greater Tunis region in the revolt, starting with the poor neighborhoods and the center of the general syndical leadership in downtown Tunis.
Dr. Ali al-Mahjubi: Experiences of political struggle since independence
Dr. Ali al-Mahjubi, professor at the University of Tunis, affirmed that the Tunisian Revolution emerged from a historical background, representing an extension to uprisings that the country has known since the era of the struggle for independence; the Revolution also was a continuation of the struggle of Tunisian elites, which was based on modernity and the compatibility between Islamic Sharia and the needs of our era.
Al-Mahjubi, who specializes in history, spoke on the panel addressing “The Tunisian Revolution: Backgrounds and Contexts,” affirming that Tunisia was the first Arab or Muslim country to have a constitution (1861) that mandated a separation of powers in order to limit despotic rule. He noted that the pioneers and political theorists of the national movement were affected by Western political thought and the philosophers of the Enlightenment, and built their movement with this democratic dimension in mind.
Al-Mahjubi said that the Tunisian national movement adopted the reformist project and labored on two fronts: resisting colonialism and combating autocracy. He added that struggle on the second front never ceased, with the strugglers – of various stripes – enduring prison and exile, even after independence, and equally so in the eras of Bourguiba and Ben Ali. At the same time, he affirmed that political struggles had intersected with social struggles, from the 19th century until the January 14 Revolution.
Muhammad Al-Habib Marseet: Radicalization through activism in civil society
Nation-building in the post-colonial phase relied on the notion of “étatism,” which led the countries of the Arab Maghreb into models of state hegemony and control in the context of a modernizing project that aimed to replace the traditional structures of society with modern ones. This project, however, was not accompanied by a genuine political and social dynamic, and instead was dominated by a repressive character, preventing large swaths of society from identifying with it – and often prompting these to view it with suspicion, resistance, and/or outright rejection.
The Tunisian General Labor Union gradually imposed itself as a major actor in all the phases of anti-colonial struggle since the end of World War II. It had an instrumental role in organizing the Independence Conference of August 23-24, 1946, and in running the proceedings; the conference grouped all sensibilities and stripes of the Tunisian national movement. The Union waged strikes and other campaigns, widely considered bloody and violent, which chiefly targeted the colonial regime and its most prominent symbols.
During the convention of the New Constitutional Party, which was held in Sfax in 1956, the Union leaders pushed for the adoption of a social program that was lacking in the National Party’s agenda; the program was inspired – in broad terms – from that of the fourth conference of the central syndicate, which effectively became the program of a party that was preparing to take the reins of the country.
The bloody events of January 26, 1978 were a point of rupture and transformation, demonstrating the shift of the party of national liberation (the Constitutional Party) into a pillar of a dictatorship with a police character that was increasing daily. The amount of repression carried out that day revealed the dictatorial aspect of the regime; the diverse forms of repression that had been employed previous to the January 26 massacres proved incapable of abating labor activism, and after the brutal crackdown, the Tunisian unionist cause became an annual concern for the International Labor Organization.
The government and the Tunisian General Labor Union reached another impasse in March 1984, when the authorities responded to the demands of the movement and threats of strikes with intransigence, a refusal to negotiate, mass arrests of union cadres, arbitrary firings of workers, and tribunals.
Despite all these pressures and a context of unstable and shifting conditions, the Union remained – as before – focused on the national concern, and on giving this primacy in its approach to social and developmental questions. The Union was able, in the absence of an effective role for parties, to form an umbrella for protests in recent years the felling of the Ben Ali regime.
Nureddine Jebnun: The army’s conduct towards the Revolution
Among the main patterns during the current chain of protests in various Arab countries (which took the shape of uprisings that later evolved into largely peaceful demonstrations) has been a series of interactions and reactions emanating from several directions, including internal security forces with all their branches and formations: police, paramilitary forces, militias, presidential security units, and intelligence. Studying these events helps us to understand the ability of regimes to endure by using different levels of violence in the suppression of revolts; the focus will also fall on the particular and paramount roles of national militaries in hastening the falls of regimes and their main figures, and on army interactions with the political sphere in the post-revolution phase.
On the same theme, the role played by the Tunisian military establishment, by refusing to enter into a bloody confrontation with the people before and following Ben Ali’s escape, advances the question of civil-military relations and matters of security that should be regarded as an integral part of Tunisia’s political future. The objective is to democratize the process and functioning of the military/security sector and to lessen the mystery that has tainted these relations under an autocratic, despotic, regime where no separation of powers existed, and that can only be done by penetrating the veil of secrecy that was the signature feature of these organizations.
Moreover, one of the conditions for a rupture with the past involves limiting the mistaken notion that had spread since the early years of independence, to the effect that the military domain must be the exclusive concern of the president due to the expansive executive powers given to the head of the executive in the presidential system devised by Bourguiba, which was personalized and had its repressive apparatus stretched further under his successor, Ben Ali.
From this perspective, an attempt to chronicle the role of the Tunisian National Army in its positive interaction with the January 14 Revolution can only be made through a calm reading of the evolution of civilian-military relations in their theoretical dimension and in the context of the modern Tunisian state. That would be an entryway into analyzing the new political reality, whose features have not been made clear as of yet.
The first juncture in this relationship was in January 1978, when the Internal Security Forces (Police and Guards) failed to contain mass protests led by the Tunisian General Labor Union. The army got involved when it was called into the street to face the protest movement, despite its lack of experience in dealing with civilian demonstrations, which led to a large number of deaths in what became known as “Black Thursday”.
The same scenario replayed itself in January 1984, when the Internal Security Forces proved, for the second time, their inability to deal with a state of societal rejection of the existing system of rule, which was no longer capable of solving the country’s problems or keeping up with the demands of society. Despite the known aversion of the military brass (known as “the silent power”) to interfering in domestic political affairs, rumblings began to be heard from senior military figures who were displeased with the army’s being charged with police functions, which should have fallen on the Internal Security Forces. This was due in part, at least, to the massive incompetence afflicting the Ministry of the Interior’s bureaucracy; signs of distrust began to appear between members of the Armed Forces and those of the ministry, often taking the form of displeasure with the Internal Security Forces’ handling of crises that were social in character. The army, on the other hand, believed that despite being burdened with new and unwanted functions, it received no additional benefits in appreciation for this. Furthermore, the reigning feeling among the military brass became one of concern over what it regarded as attempts to implicate the army and degrade is fighting capabilities in side-battles that were the result of mortal political mistakes and utmost failure in the field of security.
The army was first employed in the provinces of Sidi Bouzid and al-Qasrain on January 9, 2011, for the purpose of protecting certain installations, including financial institutions, private and public establishments, and public buildings such as provincial administrative centers, state agencies, and municipal halls. However, the repressive attitude of the Internal Security Forces in these regions led to clashes between the army and the riot police, especially in the town of Riqab in the Sidi Bouzid Governorate. In Riqab, units of the National Army that were posted in the town threatened to open fire on police elements who were chasing unarmed protesters with the intent of assaulting them, after the civilians attempted to take refuge with the army and asked for its protection. It does not appear that this reaction was the result of specific orders from the military command, but an individual act borne out of the instant estimation of the situation by the units’ leaderships.
After the escalation of events, beginning on January 12, army units began to be deployed in the capital, Tunis, and its environs. Despite the heavy deployment, the light nature of the arms issued to these soldiers and their exclusive use of US-made Humvees for transportation – none of which were sufficient for serious military operations – was an indication that the regime feared handing over the capital to heavily armed troops, given the possibility of their joining the protests, which would have a decisive role in changing the existing political situation.
Abdellatif Al-Hanashi: Party cadres surpassed their leaderships during the Revolution
The Revolution in Tunisia lacked a political leadership that could mobilize people and direct them towards specific national goals, but that does not diminish the fact that many from the bases and cadres of these parties, or at least some of them, contributed to varying degrees in the uprising and its numerous facets. These were namely the cadres active within the Tunisian General Labor Union and other civil society organizations, especially in the provinces. It should also be affirmed that the Revolution came as a result of an accumulation of political, syndical, and legal struggles that emanated from disappointments accompanying the building of the modern national state. This state focused on economic and social aspects while confiscating the basic political and civic rights of the Tunisian people; furthermore, the state’s shortcomings and crises deepened with Ben Ali’s assumption of power and his edification of the security state. Ben Ali adopted developmental policies that appeared to some to be correct, but effectively produced unprecedented levels of corruption and socio-economic problems.
Tunisia witnessed a popular revolt that began spontaneously in Sidi Bouzid, but the geographic and social reach of the Revolution quickly expanded to include the unionists, rights activists, and the middling cadres and popular bases of political parties and student unions in the towns and cities, all the way to the popular neighborhoods of the capital. All of these groups participated in maturing the revolution in its evolving forms until it achieved its objective: the ousting of the president and his departing the country on January 14, 2011 – leading Tunisia into a new political phase that is radically different from the past six decades. It appears that the revolution has only achieved a small portion of its goals, and is still in its early stages.
The economic crisis – felt in Tunisia since late 2007, and subsequently exacerbated by the international financial crisis – intensified the crisis of the developmental model adopted by Ben Ali’s government. It also deepened the inequality between different social classes and between the country’s provinces. Unemployment and other problems in the labor market became paramount issues for all of Tunisian society and the state, in addition to civil society organizations, with joblessness becoming a corollary of marginalization, exclusion, and the breakdown of the mechanisms of social cohesion.
The accumulation and intensification of economic, social, and political problems had deep consequences for all social classes. Most of these issues had been known to the country since independence, and were further complicated since the mid-1980s after the Tunisian economy became more integrated in global capitalism, with the ensuing transformations in Tunisian society. These changes were especially adverse for college-educated youth (literacy in Tunisia exceeds 95%), especially in the regions of the interior. This youth was locked out of job opportunities and remained on the margins of the economic process for a long period, suffering marginalization, bitterness, and exile while limited sections were enjoying the whole of the country’s wealth.
The uniqueness of Tunisia’s Revolution was not only in the revolutionary character that removed the symbol of repression and despotism, former President Ben Ali, but also in its social and national extent and in its unique tools of struggle: a spontaneous unarmed revolt, without a steering political leadership, that developed from social protests against poverty, unemployment, and social and economic marginalization into a popular uprising that filled most parts of the country; and finally, a political revolution with slogans aimed at the demise of the political regime and its principal symbols. The targeting of the ruling party’s headquarters and the calls to dissolve the party pointed to the deep-seated causes of the Revolution: Revolution cannot be merely explained through momentary reasons – such as the economic, political, and social factors engendered by Ben Ali’s two-decade rule – but through the political system established by al-Habib Bourguiba, founder of the Neo Destour Party (the Free Destour Party was initially founded by Shaykh Abdelaziz Thaalbi in 1920), which ruled the country through non-democratic methods since independence and imposed failed developmental and political models. These factors helped explain the Tunisians’ optimism regarding the statement of November 7, 1987 (the date of Ben Ali’s ascension), which promised the people freedom, democracy, and social justice, in line with the Tunisian people’s cultural and social evolution and its political maturity. Ben Ali later changed the name of the ruling party to the Constitutional Democratic Rally.
Thus, it will not be surprising if the post-revolutionary regime changes the name of the ruling party, injecting new blood into it; and it was not a coincidence that most prominent figures in the political and syndical opposition hailed from the generation of the 1970s. The generation which struggled in the arenas of student, political, and civil society activism, the generation that authored and educated and taught the coming generations: children and students and unionists.
Against this entire background, we cannot conclude that Tunisia’s Revolution was one of the youth only, for it was a revolt of the entire Tunisian people. It was also the revolution of parties, political and professional organizations, as well as the opposition, which offered visions and positions on the Revolution, and faced Ben Ali’s rule and his policies and corruption and family with full capacity and courage. Numerous components of the Tunisian people, who were negatively affected by this despotic rule, contributed to various degrees in pushing for the Revolution and its eruption – each according to his or her own capacities and methods.
Ezeddine Abdelmawla: The media’s role in the people’s Revolution of Tunisia
The media, in particular the new media, was not a mere disseminator of the events of the Tunisian Revolution. With their interactive character and wide usage among youth, new media forms became one of the veritable catalysts of the Revolution. It contributed, with great effectiveness, to the creation of a new consciousness through a quick and intense campaign of politicization, and by linking activists to each other and coordinating their movements in the field.
Via its various tools, the new media was capable of creating a communicative environment in which patterns of social and political communication have changed, giving paramount importance to information technology. This paper relies on an analysis of statistical data on the use of Facebook by Tunisian activists to support its thesis on the role of the media in the people’s Revolution.
As with every other major event in history, the Tunisian Revolution was a multidimensional, multifaceted phenomenon that cannot be properly understood by being reduced to a single dimension, or by being read from a single perspective.
Regardless of the influence of the media on the process of change, it can in no way be a substitute for the people, represented in its political and social forces and active civil society organizations. We need to address the role of the media, therefore, as one of the Tunisian Revolution’s notable facets, which in turn will help us to comprehend other dimensions of this historic event.
Examining the media dimension of the Revolution is a way of shedding light on the new social movement that creatively used the means of the new media, transmitting the voice of the people in all parts of Tunisia to the entire world. This was the movement that detonated the Revolution, led it, and protected it in the face of the maneuvers of the counter-revolution. The movement of the rebelling youth has marked that phase of Tunisian history with its special signature, offering its country, its nation, and the world a Revolution whose lessons will not be soon forgotten.
One of the first lessons of the Revolution was its reviving a fundamental notion of political change, the notion of “revolution” itself, which we believed had disappeared for good with the end of the “age of ideologies” and transformative meta-ideas. After Tunisia, this concept found its way back into public debate, in addition to its wide dissemination to billions through the Internet, television, and other forms of media.
If discussing revolution makes for broad comparisons and the invoking of past revolutionary experiences, it should be acknowledged that each revolution has its own conditions and contexts. Despite all potential resemblances between the Tunisian and other revolutions, the people’s Revolution of Tunisia guards a “Tunisian specificity,” chiefly in its interaction with the products of the technological revolution in communications and the media.
Samir Makdessi: Interpreting the Arab democracy deficit and the conditions of democratic transition
In light of the success of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, and with similar movements in other Arab countries apparently nearing success, Dr. Makdessi asked: can we predict that the year 2011 will be the point separating two Arab eras, that of autocracy and that of democratic transformation? Will this year witness an edification of substantive democracy in Tunisia and Egypt? “I am aware that there is no agreement on the definition of the concept of democracy, but I assume that this concept posits political systems whose members are – politically – on equal footing, and who rule collectively, and are endowed with all the capacities, resources, and institutions they need to govern themselves. In other words, these systems are inspired by values of freedom, justice, and equality,” Makdessi said. He continued by saying, “I do not claim to have an answer for these two questions, nor do I wish to make predictions, but I shall address some of the main factors that – in my view – contribute to a better understanding of the process of democratic transition in the Arab world: why was this process hampered and delayed until our day? And what are the factors that can push it forward in the future?”
He divided his treatment of the matter into three categories: 1) relating to the political/economic environment in Arab countries until the end of 2010; 2) The factors that hampered the advance towards true democracy until this moment; and 3) The elements that could propel the process of democratic transition forward – taking into consideration the recent developments in Tunisia and Egypt. From this starting point, Makdessi made the following observations:
“If we looked at the Arab world up until the end of 2010, we would have generally found political institutions that are devoid of real political competition, thus failing to reflect a free and authentic popular representation, despite the fact that the level of autarchy varied from one country to another. On the economic level, national Arab economies gradually shifted from public sector-based economies into privatized economies through projects of privatization and the opening up to the international market.
“What is noteworthy about this process is the ability to combine autocracy with economic liberalism, domestically and abroad. In the absence of institutions guarding the public interest – as found in democratic regimes despite the lacks and errors in application – economic liberalization led, in many Arab countries, to an intersection of interests between the political ruling class (or some of it) and the large business class (or some of them), which dovetailed with a rise in the levels of corruption. It would be useful to note that, in 2009, the Transparency International corruption index placed most Arab countries in the lower half of the countries surveyed.
“If we look at the Arab world as a whole, classical modernization theory would be incapable of explaining the nature of the Arab “deficiency” in the fields of democracy and freedoms. On this front, we find a contrast between the Arab experience and that of many other countries across the world, where we saw a positive correlation between economic development and democratization.
“Then, what explanatory alternatives are there for the persistence of the democratic deficit on the level of the Arab homeland as a whole? This phenomenon can be referred to two main factors: the oil wealth (the rentier state theory, which is based on a tradeoff between economic welfare and political representation), and, most importantly, the region’s conflicts, especially the Arab-Israeli one, with the domestic and civil wars added to the mix; all of these became justifications for the ruling authority to refrain from enacting veritable democratization. That in the absence of a just resolution to the Palestinian cause, creating a regional environment that is unsuitable for real political reform. The effect of these conflicts during our current period may be less than in the past, but we could never overestimate the negative effects of the Arab-Israeli conflict on the Arab march towards democracy.
“Conversely, the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions ushered in a new political era in the Arab world, the era of transition from autocracy to democracy. We can only wait to discover the extent to which these two experiments will be a catalyst for democratic transformation on the broad Arab level. However, speeding up this process and expanding it in the Arab homeland may be a complex process; each Arab country has its specificity and history; therefore, the conditions for the success of democratic transition may differ between one Arab country and another.”
Dr. Kamal Abdellatif: Questions of reform and change in the Arab world
“Two issues need to be pointed out that are directly related to the forms of protest emanating from Tunisia, and which expanded in the last three months to include the cities and towns throughout most Arab countries. The first factor relates to the fact that the event has re-established the political and symbolic importance of politics and political activism.
“The ongoing political dynamic in the Arab street has ignited a political debate over the question of reform. This debate led to the appearance of a series of positions and slogans responding to the necessities of the emerging Arab condition. This also led to the eruptions in the streets, putting forth the necessity of holding new political contracts which seek to support the suspended project of democratic reform, which has been put out of commission in most Arab countries.
“The second issue at hand relates to the nature of the initiatives that were launched in the thick of the youth protests in Tunisia, and then Egypt and the rest of Arab countries. These initiatives and slogans – with their shocking power and the loud dynamics of protest in Tunisia’s towns and cities – revived values that had disappeared from the Arab political scene. Those were values of courage and boldness and of taking unmitigated stands and positions, values that had become completely absent from Arab political activism.
“This bold initiative achieved what used to be considered – very recently – an impossible act. It carved out a path for change, lifted the state of political impasse that had become a constant in Arab political discourse. One of the ironies of that massive event was that those who initiated and ignited it were not among those accustomed to radical political activism, as we usually witnessed with the remnants of the left and in most aspects of Arab political life. The ‘action youth’ that created the spectacle was located outside the professional political realm, but it emerged from the heart of society and politics, offering with its resilience a creative, historic act that will generate new horizons in political activism. This process, which we assume will take place in its own manner in each country, is that of Arab political reform.
“The spectacle of street protests in Tunisian cities and their margins had all the characteristics of civic political action imprinted with courage and boldness. The protests offered a new horizon to anti-authoritarian political activism, with an eye at advancing and radicalizing the project of political reform. From the heart of this front of struggle emerged new actors, led by youth seeking freedom with its arduous paths and vaunted rewards. All of this happened at once, with complete disregard for the tropes that habitually chained wills. The vanguard of the Revolution was armed with will, perseverance, and action that were capable of ending the age of tyranny.
“It would be hard for an observer to issue quick and comprehensive judgments describing what went on, and is still ongoing, in Tunisia, Egypt, and other Arab realms. That is despite all the ramifications – and even gains – already gained with the flow of events. It appears to me that what is taking place in Arab societies these days should be viewed, above all, as the culmination of various factors, some of which go back decades in time.
“The event of change in Tunisia was described in several terms that were often synonyms: protest, explosion, uprising, revolution, etc. These varying imageries reflected different reactions to the events and cannot be considered to offer an accurate description of what went on, and is still occurring, in the Tunisian and Egyptian streets. As an outside observer, and based on what the different media outlets offer in the way of information, I consider that what is taking place – at different paces – in the other Arab arenas today (Yemen, Libya, and Syria) places us in the face of an initiative that is embedded in a complex historic context, which will hopefully be a tool for liberation from the throes of authoritarian and despotic Arab regimes.
“The event’s early sparks, consisting of protests and the raising of slogans, drew the contours of a new model for political change in Arab societies. Before we approach the event, we must avoid descriptions that would sequester us to a specific theoretical school, and attempt to think of this new juncture that was created through direct action, with the hope of casting new terms that fit its spirit and message, and that of activism, which has launched – and continues to produce – a spark of light in an Arab condition that is darkened by disappointments and defeats. This act of creation will have important consequences on the course of political struggle in Arab societies. Such an approach is needed to come closer to the event and its effects, hoping to understand how its threads were strung, in order to diagnose what happened – and is happening – in Tunisian society.
“The Tunisian regime’s ferocity was apparent in its policies, which were founded on the quelling of any form of opposition that sought change or defended reform and democratization. This led to a Tunisian street that lacked clear political alternatives that formulated by political parties, in the face of a police regime that labored – through a large dose of violence – to domesticate the opposition in favor of the one-party model.
“What occurred in Tunisia could be seen as a result of Tunisian society’s interaction with the Arab and global system of reforms, and the succeeding waves of reform in Eastern Europe and Latin America during the last third of the last century. Despite all the forms of violence, domestication, and exclusion that were exercised against Tunisian society (practiced without the slightest attention to the reservations and condemnations of Arab and international Human Rights forums), society in Tunisia remained capable of producing political stances and visions of reform that have much in common with the elites’ understanding of political democratic thought. In this context, we believe that some of these political stances and visions were present, one way or another, in the minds of many groups of protesting youth in the center of the capital, and the marginalized and isolated villages, villages that suffer – like the rest of marginalized Arab towns – from economic, social, and cultural imbalances.”
Salem Labyad: Revolution and the mutations in Tunisia’s political map
“It appears that the scene of politics and parties in Tunisia has become more complex than under Ben Ali, making its deconstruction and analysis a difficult task for students of politics and political sociology. This difficulty emanates from the multiple gains achieved by the democratic Revolution in Tunisia for most sectors of political and civil societies. The same applies to the strata of society, its classes, and the ensemble of its social forces, whose dream was achieved without painful sacrifices or burdensome losses, as has often happened in the course of revolutions and large protest movements throughout history. The dazzling number of applications made to establish political parties is but a facet of the gains offered to the activists in Tunisia’s political society; a month after the regime’s fall, 40 new parties were added to the existing 16 that operate legally, which makes for a total of 56 parties and political movements that are directly active in the political field, aside from associations that do the same indirectly.
“Many of the new parties that emerged post-Ben Ali present a high amount of vagueness in terms of their ideological and political choices. An exception can be made for the currents and parties that are known for their nationalist, Islamist, and leftist belongings in terms of ideology – and which have been present in the political arena since before Ben Ali himself – the rest of the emerging parties are still struggling to define themselves, and most of them remain in an “under establishment” status, with what it implies in terms of the absence of political vision – not to mention the formulation of programs on paper, for yet-to-be-held founding conferences.
“This issue does not only apply to the vaguely-named parties that are, in fact, influenced by the Turkish political scene, but it also extends to some movements that are regarded as ‘ideological’.”
Dr. Haykal Ben Mahfouz: Between a coalition government and a caretaker government
Before the January 14 revolution, the Tunisian government was an outwardly constitutional one, and closer to being a “management government” after the suspension of its political role following the 1988 amendments, which made the cabinet into a façade that coexisted with another cabinet that controlled real decision-making power and obfuscated the role of the formal government.
According to Haykal Ben Mahfouz, this positioning made the Tunisian government unprepared to handle democratic transition and a popular revolution, which made the first interim cabinet appear perplexed, as if lacking in experience. He argued that the fragility of the Tunisian political class did not provide the suitable conditions for a coalition government as a frame for democratic transition. Ben Mahfouz therefore asked: would this be a transfer of power or a transition to democracy?
Dr. Ben Mahfouz said that Tunisia has known two distinct phases since the January 14 revolution: the first witnessed a simple transfer of power in accordance with Article 56 of the constitution, and what emerged quickly turned into a coalition government after the rejection of having symbols of the former regime in the first interim cabinet. He noted that popular pressure made the second interim cabinet to take on the appearance of a symbol for the transition, but lacked a sufficient condition for this to be the case. The cabinet was not befitting of the requirements of the political phase, which made it also fall with the faltering of the constitutional legitimacy in the face of the legitimacy of the revolution. The Revolution imposed a shift from a caretaker government to a government of democratic transition (the cabinet of Caid El-Sebsi) based on an agenda of political, economic, and social reform, and on the provision of security, as well as an agreement that returned the cabinet to its political role – and resulted in the Interim Organization of Powers. Ben Mahfouz asserted that the transitory phase would not end in Tunisia with the July 24 elections, predicting its continuation for at least another decade before normalcy is established.
Adnan Munser: The Tunisian General Labor Union: dialectic of the social and the political
“Understanding the dialectic between political and social struggles throughout the historic march of the most prestigious social organization in Tunisia takes on increased importance at this point in time – given the role played by the Tunisian General Labor Union in the Revolution. The revolt had started in Tunisia’s interior, only to escalate and lead to the flight of former President Zein al-Abideen Ben Ali on January 14, 2011.
“Because of the political tightening under Bourguiba and Ben Ali, the Tunisian General Labor Union became a veritable refuge for strugglers who felt the depth of the economic and social crises facing the marginalized sections, whose incomes witnessed a sharp decrease in tandem with the ballooning of the wealth of the privileged class, which seized upon liberal economic policies to fill their accounts and evade taxation. After the void left by the demise of the Constitutional Party, due to its widely unpopular economic choices, the Union imposed itself as a significant social pole, labored to embrace the strugglers, and liberated itself – gradually – from the oversight of the party and the state over its cadres.
“When the events of the Tunisian Revolution began to escalate, but before they spread to the totality of the country, the leading circles in the Union pointed to studies effectuated on social conditions in the provinces of the interior; these showed the real depth of the crisis and suggested to the government solutions to alleviate or even eliminate these difficulties. Despite the fact that these claims were correct, the real issue was with the Union losing its pressuring effect over the authorities in order to prod them to deal with these social problems, especially the developmental imbalance across provinces and social sectors. This state of affairs can be referred to the process of domestication that the Union was subjected to by the authorities, and the implication of its leadership in practices that were stained with corruption and the abuse of authority, which made it easier for the government to control it and to garner power over decision-making in the syndicalist movement thereafter.
“The revolution took the Tunisian General Labor Union by surprise, as it did to all other actors on the scene, including parties and the government; however, it was the middle cadres who ameliorated the Revolution’s chance at success in its beginnings and its end. This has to do with a combination of the improvised character of the Tunisian Revolution, the paucity of leaders around whom the masses could gather, and the rich legacy of the General Labor Union. All of these factors turned the Union’s headquarters and its activists in the provinces into an incubator for the Revolution. The syndicalists led the protests and articulated their demands to the media, despite the negative position of the executive bureau vis-à-vis these activities. Pressure on the unionist brass led to its acceding – despite its wishes – to general strikes by the provincial unions, which proved to be very successful. It would not have been possible to amass the large protesting crowds calling for Ben Ali’s removal on Main Street in the capital on January 14, had it not been a day of general strike in Tunisia.
“The notable element, however, was the behavior of the unionist leadership on the eve of January 14 and Ben Ali’s fleeing the country. Despite the state of embarrassment experienced by that leadership, represented especially in the executive bureau, it did not feel concerned with the critiques that were directed against it because of its previous positions towards the regime. The Union launched into a mode of action that placed it at the forefront of events, and made it invest politically in the revolution in an unprecedented manner. Despite the fact that the General Labor Union was permitted to participate in the government in different capacities, the Union quickly refused, which was a clever reading of the reactions born out of the appointment of the Ghannushi cabinet, which included 14 ministers from the ruling party. This exposed the Union to fierce attacks by the government, including from the two opposition parties that accepted to participate in the cabinet despite its flaws. The Union’s position – rejecting the broad participation of the former regime’s old guard in the two Ghannushi cabinets of January 15 and February 27 – led to the cabinets’ fall through two popular protests held in Government Square in the Qasba district. The Union is expected to continue playing a key role in the coming phase, with the arena seemingly devoid of strong competitors for that role.
Suheil al-Habib: Democratic transition in contemporary Arab thought
“It may be natural for a lot of the lines of demarcation between those involved in the public sphere to be blurred in the moments of direct interaction with paramount events, such as the revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt, which felled, within a short span of time, the heads of the regimes in the two countries. If the matter applies only partly to the demarcation between direct political positions and discreet ideological currents, it was clearly apparent in the case of the distinction between the position of the politician and that of the intellectual. That also applies to the distinction between the field of thought and foundations, and that of deliberation and action; as well as that between the various mainstream theoretical and methodological approaches that attract the intellectual and scholarly elites. But these lines of demarcation are expected to emerge anew, or – in our estimation – so they ought, with the transition from the moment of direct action to that of calm analysis; and from the moment of glorification and ecstasy to that of planning and deliberation regarding the coming challenges, problems, and obstacles.
“Today, the birth pangs of democratic transition in post-Ben Ali Tunisia can be narrated from the viewpoint of contemporary Arab thought and its dealing with the question of democracy in the last two decades especially. If our demarche claims a certain experience in researching the theme, we shall not attempt to hide behind the pretention of an ‘academic’ veil or ‘objective neutrality’ while approaching a question that is political par excellence, and not only ideological.
“Three intellectual and practical dynamics were witnessed on the Arab scene in recent years, in an intersecting and mutually altering manner. The first dynamic relates to the attempts to build coalition fronts grouping ‘the forces of the nation’ – on the regional as well as the Arab national level (the well established currents: nationalist, liberal, Islamist, and leftist). In this regard, we could specifically point out the Nationalist Islamic Conference and the Historical Bloc Project, on the national Arab level, and to the October 18 Committee for Freedom and Rights, on the Tunisian level. The second dynamic related to the founding intellectual dimension for these institutional ambitions, with instances such as the nationalist-religious dialogue and the literature of the Arab Nahda project and the documents emanating from October 18 committee. The third dynamic was the intellectual revisions effectuated by the various powers seeking an alliance around the democratic question, chiefly Islamist revisionist actors. These three dynamics coalesced to produce a number of characteristics and features that form, collectively, the main tendency that generally revolves around an essential idea, which is that democracy is the solution to the problem of autocratic authority in the Arab homeland.
“Within this juncture, the lines of demarcation are drawn between two forms of possible types for transition to democracy in Tunisia and the Arab homeland in general. Each type is decided and enacted through specific choices for democratic transition: either by being completely focused on ‘the pursuit of the goals of the revolution’ (i.e., a complete rupture with the symbols and laws of despotism), or by making the revolution into the beginning of a long gradual path of reform, which leads to real societal changes, including the various social, economic, political, and cultural structures. This option is not being considered and is foreclosed in Tunisia today.
Mohammad Malik: Constitutional infrastructure of Tunisia’s Second Republic
“The constitutional question enjoyed special status in the context of the uprising that took place in Tunisia on December 17, 2010, and saw victory with the fall of the head of the regime on January 14, 2011. It must be mentioned that one of the first issues that opened the constitutional debate in Tunisia was that of the necessary legal adaptation to fill the void left by the absence of a president and whether this should be decided according to Article 56 or Article 57 of the constitution. In reality, the situation was clear: the issue was not merely one of filling a presidential void as per Article 56 or Article 57, but one of founding a new legitimacy with different political, legal, and constitutional requirements. That was clearly stated through the nature of the Revolution that took place in the Tunisian homeland on January 14.
“From a historical perspective, constitutional experiences have shown that revolutions – which aim at a rupture with what preceded them – abolish the constitution and open the way for the drafting of a new one that embodies their values and reflects popular choices on the conventions of the new legitimacy the people wishes to erect. This notion applies, by any measure, to Tunisia, which heralded the first act in what could be termed the Arab Spring of Change. This Revolution is currently attempting to put in place a new structure on the constitutional, legal, political, and institutional levels. In any such process, questions abound regarding the extent to which the revolution should affect a rupture with the collapsed regime and build a completely new one in place. There are, however, factors that contributed to the maturing of the process of change in Tunisia, despite the persistence of a state of political immobility for two decades. These factors make possible an optimistic perspective regarding the ongoing dynamic in Tunisia aimed at moving the country into a new constitutional, political, and institutional system.
“Opinions voiced during the constitutional and political debates following the fall of the regime in Tunisia can be divided between those calling for a parliamentary system, and those asking for a return to a presidential system as devised in the 1959 charter before it was deformed by subsequent constitutional amendments into a presidentialist regime, especially since the era of the late Prime Minister Al-Hadi Nuwaira.
“However, given the ongoing debates in Tunisian society, namely those among the political, social, and media elites, it can be said that a consensus exists over the necessity to break with the old regime and seek the establishment of a new one – based on freeing political society from the calcifying elements that turned the republican regime from an unbalanced presidential one into a closed presidentialist system that controlled all aspects of the state and mobilized them in the service of the presidency and those around it. By also placing the institution of the state in the service of the hegemonic party, the regime also dominated all junctures of society and its forms of expression.
“The ongoing ‘constitutionalization’ process in Tunisia is proceeding through the consultative committee in charge of constitutional and political reforms, and through the preparations to elect a constituent assembly on July 24, 2011. The new assembly will be tasked with the drafting of a new constitution for the country, and it is both theoretically and methodologically difficult to distinguish the ‘constitutionalization’ process from the quest for consensus around this process. The process advances in tandem with the success of political, social, and cultural actors and the entirety of society’s sectors in developing consensus and establishing a shared agreement over its principles. Therefore, we consider consensus to be a necessary condition for the success of the ‘constitutionalization’ process, which has been prominently expressed in the Tunisian case; aside from the creation of three committees to deal with matters of political and constitutional reform, examine human rights violations, and investigate the embezzlement of public funds, all sections of Tunisian society were involved in debates on the basis upon which this prospective ‘constitutionalization’ process is to be founded, as well as over the necessary and appropriate tools to found a constitutional legitimacy, and thereafter a political legitimacy that befits the spirit of change that took place on January 14.
Mohammad al-Haddar: Towards an alternative development model in the democratic state
“Since independence, Tunisia has achieved results that can be considered positive compared to other North African nations, despite its limited resources on the economic level. The state of Ben Ali built its legitimacy upon these results, and some international institutions, such as the World Bank, considered Tunisia to be a model to be followed. Why do we speak, then, of an alternative developmental model?
“The Tunisian economy is experiencing difficult circumstances that are marked by reduced activity and a slowing of investment leading to negative results in 2011, in addition to the shrinking of the growth rate to around zero. In general, the economy under Ben Ali suffered from vulnerabilities, corruption, and the inability to find solutions to unemployment and imbalance across provinces.
“Between 1987 and 2009, Tunisia witnessed an annual growth rate of around 5%, which was considered to be higher than average for North African nations during recent decades, despite a lack in available natural resources and an increasingly competitive environment on the global level. At the same time, growth in Tunisia registered lower rates than some other countries, such as the Republic of Korea, Chile, and Malaysia.
“The increase in growth helped per capita income by a third during the 1990s, which placed Tunisia among middle-income countries according to World Bank classifications, with a per capita GDP of $3,300 in 2008. If not for corruption, Tunisia would have been able to achieve even higher growth, generate more jobs, and assure a better distribution of income between different sections of society. Corruption limited investment, which limited growth and employment. Corruption spread through institutions and even in the wheels of the state, which prevented wealth creation, making corporate leaders unwilling to preserve small institutions, thus making the economy operate at a sub-optimal pace, especially since the economic fabric is 90% based on small and medium enterprises that make use of minimal technological capital and do not rely on innovation.
“In the current situation, the interim government has enacted a program aimed at stabilizing the strategy of the state and respecting all obligations towards domestic and foreign parties, placing a priority on security, employment, provincial development and social provisions. This program is more concerned with redistributing wealth rather than with creating it, since in the short term, the government cannot create job prospects, and attracting investment is dependent on security, stability, and the creation of a suitable climate for investment.
“Establishing a new pattern of growth, regardless of the present rate of growth, is a necessity because the current pattern has reached a point where it can no longer create sufficient job opportunities to limit unemployment among college graduates, who numbered 157,000 in 2010. In this context, Tunisia must exploit new avenues with high added value that are assured through the knowledge economy, relying on highly skilled labor. It follows from this that one of the main conditions for changing the developmental dynamic in the coming years lies in reinforcing the knowledge-based economy, based on the existing human capital and its ability to innovate, take initiative, and modernize.
Ahlam Dayf: The role of oversight in the protection of the democratic system
Oversight and its role in democracy can be understood simply as a system that makes the people the source of authority, with the understanding that the main objective of the system is to protect the rights of the people and its freedom, even in the face of those who elected the ruling group and placed them in power. In this sense, Dr. Ahlam Dayf stressed that citizens in a democratic system must be secure in the knowledge that new governments will not undermine the shared values that founded democracy.
The researcher spoke of the core principles that are indispensable to a democratic system: above all, the separation of powers and the supremacy of the law. Since the system issues laws that express the public will within the parameters of the constitution, the state must respect the supremacy of the law. This is where the term “state of law” comes from, binding the activity of the state by specifying the fields that are considered to be under the purview of the state and the procedures in place to manage them. Dayf also stressed the need for a judicial system that oversees respect for the law and citizenship.
Jamal Barout: Authoritarian development: the end of a model
“The 1980s saw the entry of several Arab countries – due to their soaring foreign debts – into the process of economic reform in accordance with the typical formula for structural adjustment programs based on the Washington Consensus. By the early 1990s, virtually all Arab countries were pursuing economic reform and structural adjustment programs, with or without the cooperation of the World Bank.
“Despite the fact that these economic reforms were accompanied by political ones that also swept the countries of the region, the unfolding of the process has enshrined what can be described as “the authoritarian development model,” which was based on an alliance between the state and the new business class to create the “monopoly of the few” and the “capitalism of the friends and relatives”. Investments were concentrated in the service sector as the total volume of investment shrunk. This model led to the achievement of foreign investment and economic growth rates that were positive and even high in some countries, like Tunisia.
“However, these fruits fell exclusively into the pockets of the dominant classes, led by the new businessmen. Distributive imbalances increased, which could be observed in rising poverty and unemployment rates; developmental gaps between provinces and regions became more pronounced, with each country adopting this developmental approach that generates, along gradations, a “North” and a “South”. A sharp increase in marginalization, therefore, was another facet of the distributive and investment policies of authoritarian development. This phenomenon was most apparent in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria.
“The spark heralding the end of the model began in Tunisia, spreading to Egypt and several other Arab countries, especially Syria, which adopted a mix of the Tunisian and Egyptian experiences that also neared its limits over the past decade. Thus, the problem of development and democracy was brought back in a historic phase of evolution in the Arab world whose main heading and essence are transitioning from authoritarianism to democracy and combining development with freedom – a phase that is still in its formative stages.
Dr. Mohammed Al-Saffar: The rise of new youth activism
“The revolutionary event in Egypt took 18 days, from the flaring of the protests on January 25 until the head of the regime surrendered power on February 11. Despite the fact that these two events created revolutionary drama, or ‘the moment of revolutionary explosion,’ the Egyptian event is yet to be clotured; its nature and dimensions are not fully clear yet, and its local, pan-Arab, regional, and international ramifications are yet to be made tangible. This applies not only to Egypt, but also to Tunisia, where the spark of the revolution started, as well as Libya, which has seen blood spilled in armed clashes, and Yemen, Iraq, Bahrain, Oman, Syria, and other countries that were affected by the winds of the revolution.
“To understand the role played by the youth during the revolutionary act and in its wake, we must fix the lens on the days of the Egyptian Revolution, those 18 decisive days, in order to glean the actual character of these past chapters. By looking closely at events, and the behavior of the regime’s main figures, one may detect a conspiratorial logic that was practiced against a specific political current (the Muslim Brotherhood), but this view would be embedded in what Indian historian Ranajit Guha described as an “elitist bias” that dominated the view of Indian historians who chronicled peasant revolts against the British colonial rule. Elitism in this context consists in the presupposition that the mobilization of peasants and their organization into a revolution is conditioned by the presence of a charismatic leadership, a political organization, or a leading class. This emerges from the widespread notion that peasants are almost completely incapable of political awareness and organization, which leads to viewing peasant organizations as apolitical, and more as improvised or intuitive actions. Thus, we can better understand why then-vice president Omar Suleiman ignored the calls of Egyptian protestors, since from his perspective, they were not endowed with any political culture or consciousness, and their improvised action was but the result of a hidden organized power that was exploiting the demonstrators: the Muslim Brotherhood. Therefore, from this perspective, the solution was to deal with this power rather than to respond to the demands of the demonstrators. Guha affirms that elitist bias tends to transcribe Western experiences with social movements while neglecting the specificity of the local setting. The peasant revolutionary initiatives, however, were linked to local leaderships endowed with political awareness, but who had no full control over the elements of the revolutionary movement; these leadership elements came together in the field of action in a manner that is qualitatively different from the type of authority practiced by the modern political party or organization.
“The concept of the ‘Rhizome,’ which was coined by Gilles Deleuze, can help us understand the specificity of the local context, and the plurality of ‘initiatives from below’ and their networked alliances.
Rhizomatic formations within the youth groups that carried out the Egyptian Revolution include the April 6 movement, Kifaya movement, the Ikhwan Youth, the National Campaign for Baradei, the Revolutionary Socialist Movement, Facebook groups – such as ‘we are all Khalid Said’ and Rasd – and many other examples.
One of the main features of Rhizomatic groups is their extreme diversity, both in form and in their style of activism; this could explain the wide variations in the ideological and organizational frameworks of the youth groups. Such groups also exhibit a massive capacity to communicate through networks, which deprives the Rhizomatic formation of a center that could be targeted to paralyze the group or decapitate its leadership. This was apparent in the ability of youth groups to coordinate common organizational and activist action, as was displayed with the call to take to the streets on Police Day (January 25) throughout Egypt’s provinces.
When youth Rhizomatic formations set their roots in the terrain of reality through the form of micro-societies, these societies were quickly able, through their networked natures and the coordination of their movements, to become new centers opposed to the state and exerting enormous pressure. This pressure and might were felt throughout the country against the then-president, his regime, and his acolytes; the movement was capable of resisting all the pressures that were applied against it, as well as the offers made in exchange for the movement changing its course. This movement also rejected all the cosmetic reforms that were announced by Mubarak in an attempt to contain the momentum of the Revolution, which eventually forced the president to surrender his post after all seats of power had been besieged and paralyzed by the protestors.
Testimonials of activists from the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions on the process of change
A group of young activists from the revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt presented their field testimonials on their experiences and the methods they employed during the protests that flooded the two countries until the regimes were felled. The testimonials were recounted during two sessions that were presided over by the General Director of the ACRPS, Dr. Azmi Bishara.
A) Testimonials from Tunisian Revolution Activists
Al-Ameen al-Bouazizi: The Revolution succeeded because it was not an elitist one
“There was a possibility to launch the revolt from Sidi Bouzid through the Progressive Democratic Party. Our comrades were prepared, and their threshold of protest was high. The region of Sidi Bouzid is not industrial, and anger on the level of the popular base did not come from the workers.”
Al-Ameen al-Bouazizi asserted that the movement was oriented against corruption, despotism and the bequeathing of rule, and away from the elitist discourse. He said that the revolution was edified in Sidi Bouzid by young men who push vegetable carts in the streets, and we were demanding that this democratic scene be reinforced, so that it could remain intense and daily. He added: “For 10 days, we were active on the media level, and we intended to form committees and spread the Revolution to other provinces. Then, the state said it had allocated 6 billion dinars for development and construction in the region, despite the fact that it was the ruling party that undermined institutions in the area, and the media attempted to sugar-coat the early events. The speaker affirmed that the movement was, at its base, tribal, and that other political forces had just joined in.”
Wael al-Aifi: The battle was one of the media
“On the media level, the battle was a great challenge after the government chose the path of covering up events. Just after the flaring of the protests, following the humiliation of al-Bouazizi and his act of self-immolation, his family, the Unionists, activists, and his colleagues who sold merchandise in the streets gathered in the square in which Bouazizi had burned himself in protest against the governor and the mayor. I was personally present with the town’s youth, and people began to shout admonishments against the local authorities. I tried to capture photos with my cellular phone and I used Facebook to spread what was going on in my city. I also participated in the protests, and we demanded the freeing of our detained comrade, Ali al-Bouazizi. With the spread of the protests into other neighborhoods, friends started sending me photos, and I would deliver them to Al Jazeera Channel in coordination with Ali al-Bouazizi. Al-Aifi addressed the current political leaders with a question, after they banned protests and sit-ins, asking how the Revolution was supposed to be protected after the banning of protests and demonstrations.”
Ali al-Bouazizi: Revolution is the culmination of 23 years of struggle
“I was the first to gather photos of [the self-immolation of] Muhammad al-Bouazizi and I distributed them to get the issue into the media, and the uprising in Sidi Bouzid was launched with the twin demands of freedom and dignity.” He added: “It was the culmination of movements and struggles that lasted for the last 23 years, during which the Nahda Party, the Labor Party, the Communist Party and many strugglers made hefty sacrifices.”
The activist al-Bouazizi affirmed that the revolt in Sidi Bouzid was organized, saying: “I was active in the Democratic Progressive Party, and we formed a core group in the university around the notion that the regime of Zein al-Abideen had weakened and was witnessing its last days. We attempted to attract as many youth as possible in order to garner political concessions from the regime. We held a sit-in for the release of a political prisoner, and we demanded a legislative pardon even though the police scattered us by force. We were then arrested. Ben Ali’s regime would arrest us under public rights regulations, such as cases of ‘begging’ and inability to pay, which were often falsified against us in cafes and restaurants.” Bouazizi continued: “Six students from the university were arrested, and our objective was to have the province rise up with its demands, to break the wall of fear and to lift the veil of media secrecy. Peasants joined the protests in the Riqab region after their lands were confiscated due to their inability to pay their loans.”
Regarding the day, December 17, 2010, when Muhammad al-Bouazizi publicly set himself on fire, Ali al-Bouazizi said: “One of [Muhammad] al-Bouazizi’s relatives called me and said that he had set himself on fire, and I began, along with a number of other strugglers within the party, to coordinate with civil society and rights and legal activists.” He added: “That was the beginning, and the Revolution began with that small family, which was embraced by civil society. We also attempted to incite a state of anger with speeches calling on people to participate and join the protests, and that took place, and we remained steadfast for 21 days until confrontations swept across Tunisia and the Revolution reached the capital.”
Rashid Harshani: Not a Facebook revolution
The Revolution was meticulously organized, and – it is sometimes said – a revolution of Facebook; if not for the presence of politicians, leaders and observers, the Revolution would have never succeeded. Harshani says: “When the media called us, they asked, ‘who are you?’ I did not know who I was! But I knew that I was among those who stood against the media’s intentional neglect and the attempts to obscure the movement. There were, daily, over 50 journalists and 15 satellite channels entering Sidi Bouzid. From the beginning, we knew that something had to be done, and everybody was asking, ‘where is the al-Bouazizi residence? Where did he set himself on fire?’ For some, the matter was almost one of tourism, but we sought to make use of the media, and to work with it in order to defeat attempts to obscure the Revolution.
B) Testimonials from Egyptian Revolution activists
Ali al-Rajjal: We vanquished the Central Security with military tactics
“The conditions of the Revolution and the ongoing arrangements in Alexandria, where I was active, made political events in that city central to the mobilization of political action throughout Egypt,” al-Rajjal said. Security oppression of the sort practiced by all Arab regimes was the main engine for the popular revolt of the youth in Egypt and Tunisia. Al Rajjal argued that the pace of the Revolution was due to the youth’s familiarity with the tools of modernity, adding that the main objective sought by the protestors was to change the entire mode of life, and not merely the constitution.
He also outlined the tactics adopted by the Revolution from the beginnings, explaining that “the mode of evasion used by the youth took the shape of a ‘Rhizome,’ which branches into several directions, with no observable, stable center. When the young men would be attacked by Central Security, they would scatter and meet again in a different location that was not under the supervision of the security forces, and once they arrived, the process would repeat itself.”
He also spoke of the roles of other movements, saying that the National Convention headed by Dr. Mohamed El Baradei was slow-moving and did not fulfill the youth’s expectations; the popular movement organized to support El Baradei’s presidential campaign, on the other hand, was among the most active and supportive of the Revolution.
Al-Rajjal also described the methods used by the youth to escape Central Security through alleyways: “this peaceful method, based on will and thought, could defeat the police apparatus, which carried weapons are pointed at chest-level.” He described the role of the parties as movements of conscience and not movements of change, with parties using classic methods in the search for change, unlike the youth.
Nawwara Najm: Mubarak’s speeches were behind the Revolution’s success
President Mubarak and his son Jamal were among the main reasons for the outbreak of the Egyptian Revolution, due to actions such as their marginalization of the army, their adoption of cultural “flatness,” and their sequestering of social groups from each other, in addition to their meddling in the sectarian issue, as in the bombing of the Two Saints Church. Najm opined that the isolation engendered in society pushed people to gather together again.
She said the tactic of cutting off communication lines that was adopted by the regime, and the violence exerted against the protesters, became the fuel of the youth’s revolt because these acts provoked everybody. The speeches delivered by then-president Mubarak were also a motive for further revolt. She added that Mubarak possessed a “talent” for provoking people’s feelings even when he did not intend to because his regular rhetoric was unavoidably couched in provocative terms.
Mohammad Abu al-Gheit: Repression in Upper Egypt was psychological
Revolution in Upper Egypt was fed by the horrific psychological repression practiced since the early 1980s, during the tenure of Interior Minister General Zaki Badr, which made political activism a difficult task. Abu al-Gheit affirmed that “democracy” and “the constitution” did not descend to the terrain of reality to achieve the expectations of the people. Abu al-Gheit also warned against the policy of lawlessness in Upper Egypt, opining that the January 25 Revolution must change that reality.
Anas Hasan: The media and popular demands were the leadership of the Revolution
The tremendous media effort made by the activists of the Egyptian Revolution through the Internet in general and social networking sites in particular succeeded in transmitting the Revolution to the global space. The media campaign was extremely successful because it made effective use of modern means, and because it presented itself through demands, not individuals.
Hasan noted the important role played by the Rasd network in managing the media battle by exposing the transgressions of the former regime during the Revolution, transmitting images of repression, and directing the boiling popular energy. He also emphasized that the intense youth effort included all parts of Egypt, and that it remained in place through Facebook until this day to protect the gains of the Revolution.
Hisham Sulaiman: Protection committees were political forums
“The popular protection committees that were formed to protect residential areas from thugs became forums to discuss Egypt’s political future. In forums, people from different walks of life traded opinions on what was taking place in Egypt, and on the future that they wanted for their country. That was in the context of popular unity against a threat that was perceived as external – that is, the threat was not in the sense of the people against the people, but that of the people against a regime that planned a counter-revolution by creating a security vacuum. This is confirmed by two examples: first, most of the middle-class and bourgeois districts in Egypt are surrounded by belts of shantytowns, and these neighborhoods all came together in the face of the campaign of intimidation waged by the remnants of the former regime. Second, the security situation in the Egyptian street was not optimal before the Revolution, even if it never reached the point of total absence of security. The organization of popular committees began in regions that had no direct links among their inhabitants, such as Cairo’s suburbs; mosques were the locus of mobilization and where recruitment took place. Some security men who had abandoned their posts joined these committees after realizing the justice of the Revolution and its demands.”
Tunisian party leaders on democratic transition and their visions for the future
A special dialogue session was held on the views of the leaders of Tunisian parties and unions, and their expectations regarding the prospects for democratic transition in their country, as well as their perspectives on existing opportunities and obstacles. A select group of Tunisian politicians participated in the session.
Hamadi al-Jabali: The Revolution belongs to the people
Hamadi al-Jabali, general secretary of the Tunisian Nahda Party, said that everyone in his country felt honored to be a Tunisian and an Arab after these revolutions that ended long eras of dictatorship and despotism. During the third day of the ACRPS symposium, al-Jabali asserted that revolutions in the Arab world were popular and similar in their demands.
He affirmed that these revolts came after long struggles waged by political parties and unions by saying: “It is a Revolution that belongs to the Tunisian people, and nobody can speak on its behalf because the Revolution’s very theme was dignity, social justice, and equality in rights.”
Al-Jabali added that Tunisia is now witnessing a counter-revolution, warning that many supporters of the defunct Constitutional Party and a number of powerful figures directed by foreign powers are working to stop the march of the Revolution and prevent it from achieving its higher goals. He also noted that that the term “Revolution” cannot meet its full definition until after the complete dismantling of the apparatuses of corruption and despotism. He added: “What is required today is to begin a gradual rebuilding, upon a healthy basis with the proper social dimensions, so that the Tunisian Revolution responds to the totality of the people’s demands through political and social development.”
Munsif al-Marzuqi: The Revolution needs years to reach its goals
Dr. Munsif al-Marzuqi, general secretary of the Congress for the Republic party, said that “each revolution engenders a counter-revolution, as history teaches us, and the Tunisian Revolution may require years before it reaches its goals.” He opined that the state of suspicion that fills the scene today is not a healthy one, and that everybody needs to rise above trifles to help meet the demands of the people.
He said the concern with establishing security, stability and economic life was an insistent need at the moment, and that elites and political parties must adopt responsible policies based on an understanding of the people’s voice, which calls for political, civic, and social rights. Al-Marzuqi added that the arena still sees the remnants of the Rally Party, the political police and tactics of divide-and-rule, warning that political parties must be aware of these threats and not fall into the tricks of the old regime, which played the tune of polarization in order to make currents clash against each other.
He added that various political sides must abandon their conflicts and gather around the national interest, because the people are capable of carrying out the Revolution, but nobody can predict the pressures that will be applied to the country in the coming phase. He asserted that the Revolution in Tunisia still needs time to reach its larger goals, that the path ahead is long, and that everybody must own up to his responsibility in this regard.
Abeed al-Briki: The fall of despotism is inevitable
The assistant secretary general and official spokesman for the Tunisian General Labor Union, Abeed al-Briki, said that the Tunisian Revolution offered a model for struggle and the rejection of despotism and oppression. He noted that social justice, which was among the slogans of the revolution, requires a suitable political atmosphere to take hold. Al-Briki added that union activism in Tunisia was always critical in nature, because it observed the deep-seated reasons that led to the revolution, especially the search for quick wealth at the expense of the people’s rights and wellbeing. He also asserted that because key aspects of the Egyptian and Tunisian regimes were largely identical, they were destined for similar results: the fall of despotism and the ending of the era of dictatorship.
The immediate causes of the Revolution in Tunisia, he said, mostly consisted of unemployment and the shrinking of the middle class, which was a central theme of the era of Ben Ali, who enshrined the policies of exclusion, exploiting divisions between parties and unions and dividing them against each other. Al-Briki noted that the Revolution only raised slogans of political and social rights, and did not raise any ideological slogans, whether Islamist or secular, and there is no evidence to the contrary. Everyone was aware, he added, that social development and political rights needed to reach the Tunisian people without delay.
Abd al-Azeez al-Masudi: Democratic transition is a critical time in Tunisia’s history
Al-Masudi, who represents the Renewal Movement, said the Revolution demanded that all political powers respond to the new reality in the country, especially since the uprising was not led by the former opposition parties, but was instead a mass movement against injustice and humiliation. He added, however, that this does not imply that the democratic forces had no role in these movements because they participated through their bases of support throughout the republic, as well as through unions and civil society organizations, which participated in the revolution with effectiveness and fervor. Al-Masudi argued that the Renewal Movement’s decision to participate in the first government of Muhammad al-Ghannushi, the former prime minister, came during a critical juncture of Tunisia’s history, right after the victory of the Revolution and the flight of Ben Ali. He noted that it was also a period of political vacuum on the level of the executive power that took place under fearsome security conditions. He opined that the success of the current phase – until the election of a founding Assembly in July 2011 – requires work on preparing the ground for transparent democratic elections, forming the constitutional institutions that should enshrine notions of democracy and freedom, returning sovereignty to the people, and successfully conducting transition to democracy.
Abd al-Latif Ubaid: Dialogue to decide the conflict between seculars and Islamists
Abd al-Latif Ubaid, representing the Democratic Assembly for Labor and Freedom, affirmed the need to hold a dialogue between Islamists and seculars in Tunisia in order to guarantee a calm and safe transition to democracy, and to establish a rupture with the practices of the past, namely exclusion and marginalization.
Ubaid noted the importance of ensuring that the coming phase responds politically to the nature of Tunisian society, which he described as nationalistic and Arabist, and as having made great contributions in spreading Arab culture in Africa. He called for moderate methods and allowing ballots to decide on the redefinition of the Second Republic and its role.
He affirmed that fair and free elections would guarantee the continuation of the Revolution and the protection of its gains. He also stressed that the current phase requires full awareness and care, for while he expressed optimism regarding the future, especially since the Revolution has succeeded in besieging corruption, he also warned that much more work was still needed to uproot corruption completely.