Case Study Into Tunisia: A Sustainable Democratic System

In 2015, a quartet of organizations from Tunisia won the Nobel Peace Prize for their contributions to a successful democratic model country in a short period of time. In 2011, the Jasmine Revolution hit Tunisia, forcing former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to step down from the presidency amid street protests, high media coverage, and support from various organizations. The chaotic scene resulted in harsh actions by police and security forces against demonstrators, which caused deaths and injuries. The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet came into the picture in 2013, displaying commendable efforts to build a “pluralistic democracy in Tunisia” in the midst of the chaos. The quartet, composed of unionists, lawyers, and human rights activists, came up with a new constitution and held free elections to build a democratic state. Their contributions prevented Tunisia from falling to a military coup or succumbing to the same fate as their neighboring countries during the Arab Spring. In 2015, they were awarded the Nobel Prize as Tunisia emerged victorious. The quartet proved that peaceful solutions are possible even in an unfavorable situation. This report aims to set Tunisia as a case study of a sustainable democratic system. It will analyze the main problems affecting a country’s democratic system and look at the different solutions Tunisia has implemented, along with their effectiveness.

Unfortunately, Tunisia’s success has reportedly been declining in recent years. In January of this year, protesters emerged to show their disapproval of the government. Citizens marched out into the streets, wreaking similar havoc as they did during the Jasmine Revolution, and for the same reason: dissatisfaction with the government’s policies. Although Prime Minister Youssef Chahed assuaged the public by saying that the country’s economic growth is recovering at a fast rate, the government has failed to deliver on their promise that Tunisians will enjoy what they expected to achieve from the 2011 Jasmine Revolution: liberty, dignity, and employment. Many scholars and politicians warned that the volatile economy in Tunisia would contribute to the declining democracy of the country. Using Tunisia as a case study, we can look deeper into which aspects of an economy can topple a democratic system.

It should be noted that Tunisia needed extensive funding to solve many of its problems. As such, the country had to get loans from the IMF and some Western countries. Because of Tunisia’s reliance on these international relationships, it had no choice but to take the lenders’ advice and implement the policies they recommended. One of the damaging policies that Tunisia had to take up was from the IMF, which required that the country disengage from international trade and employ fewer people. This not only increased the unemployment rate, but also ensured that domestic products could not shine in the global market.

Since Tunisia’s new policy is dependent on international aid, the help they need most is support from allies. In 2016, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi announced the Tunisia 2020 plan at an international donor conference, where various projects to secure Tunisia’s long-term stable economic growth were presented. Some projects could have raised up to 50 billion euros, but in the end, less than one-third of the necessary funds were raised. Friendly countries had disappointed Tunisia by being ‘all talk and no action.’ Germany, who claimed to be a supportive ally and constantly pressed the importance of stabilizing Tunisia’s economy, only pledged 300 million euros. Consequently, other European countries who showed support from the start only met their promises halfway, because they prioritized their own national interests and exploited Tunisia’s policy without reciprocating in kind.

Clearly, neighboring countries play an important role in the success of a country’s development by offering to provide aid. The United States has emphasized the importance of developing partnerships with countries that are like-minded in their desire to develop a prosperous democratic country. As an emerging beacon of hope for democracy in the Middle East and North Africa, Tunisia offers the U.S. a stepping stone into the Middle East and North Africa’s regional economies. As such, countries should not shy away from aiding countries like Tunisia and encouraging their efforts to build a peaceful democratic society as it would, in turn, benefit their respective countries as well.

That being said, Tunisia itself plays the primary role in helping themselves in these times of need. A strong and effective policy development is one that targets the people’s needs. A strong democratic country is one that depends on an effective policy development which stabilizes long-term economic growth. Public engagement is highly needed in policy making to shape a progressive democratic society. In Tunisia’s case, the government is seen to have neglected the youth’s role. Many Tunisians believe that politicians do not consider ideas and needs of young people. The adverse effect of this is that the country may face a radical opposition by these oppressed youths. Additionally, lack of communication between the government and the people due to the exclusion of the people’s role in policymaking will further damage the democratic mentality.

Tunisia is a good case study for two reasons. Firstly, it should be studied to analyze the different approaches to develop a sustainable plan to maintain the democracy that they gained their reputation for in a short period of time. Evidently, the international watchdog organization Freedom House warned about taking time for careful development and consolidation to prevent the new democracy from being dismantled as quickly as it was created. Secondly, Tunisia is a good case study for finding peaceful solutions to circumstances filled with the threat of military force or the beginning of a civil war. It proves that there is a peaceful alternative, even in a “repressive and unstable region,” as states a report released by Freedom House.

Turning to the steps Tunisia has taken, the Tunisian government has implemented a type of decentralization by sharing their responsibilities with a newly formed municipal government. This effort is useful in bridging the communication gap between civilians and the government. This third party will increase transparency and accountability, and hopefully decrease the corruption which undermines public confidence and jeopardizes the democratic transition and the economy. However, reports have shown that Tunisia has backlogged its municipal election for a long time, to the point that citizens have started to get restless. Ultimately, the most straightforward way the government can give assurance to the people is by placing all their funds into the building of the country and picking up the pace of necessary reforms, such as by holding the elections for municipal and regional governments.

In conclusion, Tunisia should be given the sufficient support they need to produce a model of an effective and sustainable democratic system that the world can follow in the future. Conversely, if Tunisia’s democracy fails, the world will only gain a country fallen into the dark side, swallowed by the same fate as its fellow Arab Spring countries.

Cherie Gan

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