Conflict & Justice

Three years later, Tunisian youth push the revolution forward


Tunisian children wave the national flag as they gather to mark the third anniversary of the uprising that toppled deposed president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Sidi Bouzid's Mohamed Bouazizi square on December 17, 2013. The square was named after the fruit seller whose self-immolation sparked the revolution that ousted the long-standing dictator and ignited the Arab Spring.



It has been three years since the Arab Spring began with the revolution in Tunisia, which ultimately led former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia. A lot has happened since then, and while the country has yet to find its footing, new hope is emerging for Tunisian youth.

Although Tunisia remains fragile and deeply divided, with troubled economic and political realities, a new uprising of young political revolutionaries is growing — led by young, educated Tunisians who are volunteering to join the interim government for free.

With Egypt, Libya, Syria and Bahrain all showing signs of failure to bring about fundamental change, Tunisia has been called "the last hope of the Arab Spring." 

If you haven’t been paying attention to Tunisia, here’s what you’ve been missing:

The North African nation “broke new ground” earlier this month, when longtime enemies in Islamist groups and the secular old guard agreed to a political deal.

The agreement is intended to elect an “independent caretaker government” until next year’s elections. This is reportedly the first time Islamists have retreated from power gained at the ballot box when faced with increasing public anger.

Tunisia’s economy has been suffering for months, and with it, violence has increased. Before the deal was announced on Saturday, Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist party Ennahda, called the climate “conducive to terrorism.”

Beji Caid Essebsi, a former prime minister who is not the leader of a secular party, responded to Ghannouchi on a televised show, saying he was responsible for the political and economic crisis.

“You have to be part of the solution,” he said. “I invite you to do so.”

Tunisian youth are volunteering to serve on interim Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa’s transitional government—demanding a place for the country’s young people in politics.

It all started with one person, before any deal had been announced. He updated his Facebook status, offering to serve on the government for one year—for free. His post included a summary of his academic and professional experience, and outline a plan for what he would do should he be selected to serve.

It didn’t take long for others to join him.

More than fifty young people—many with master’s degrees, PhDs and law degrees—made similar posts. A Facebook page that was subsequently created “to compile all candidacies” had over 10,000 “likes” in just 24 hours, and now has over 12,000 “likes.”

Tarek Chenti, the Tunisian blogger who was the first to nominate himself, said he had had enough of the “silence and negativity”.

“There are thousands of young Tunisian men and women who have gained enough education and experience to be able to run our country,” Chenti told Tunisia Live. “These people deserve to be given a chance to lead the democratic transition because after all, the revolution is theirs.”

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki this week said the country is doing “quite well,” but hundreds of protesters who gather this week to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the Arab Spring disagree.

Opposition activists gather in Sidi Bouzid demonstrating against “lack of progress”—high rates of unemployment, and the still tense political and economic atmosphere.

Protesters reportedly shouted slogans like “Work is a right, band of thieves!”

Still, Marzouki said Tunisia has been “relatively successful.”

“When you compare Tunisia with other countries like us, having this revolution… we don’t have any civil war; we stick to democracy; we have basic freedoms.”

The government and opposition agreed on an interim administration in October, with elections as soon as six months away. A new constitution, Marzouki said, is also expected to be finalized in as little as a month’s time.

Some believe a US-style “war on terrorism” could be brewing in Tunisia.

Despite the presidents comments about progress and relative stability, Cairo’s Al-Ahram is reporting that 2013 could have been the country’s worst year yet.

“The indications are that the violence will increase in 2014, as will the likelihood of foreign intervention,” Lassaad Ben Ahmed wrote.

Reports of murders and assassinations—first in January, then in July—surfaced throughout the year. These incidents brought with them tightened security in urban areas, clashes between opposition activists and police, and a new wave of young Jihadist militants, who are said to be responsible for “various acts of violence,” including ambushes, bombings and “other terrorist attacks targeting army and security soldiers and facilities.”