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November 26, 2013

Three Years After Revolution, Tunisia Struggles With Democracy


The Arab Spring began in Tunisia in 2010 when an out-of-work fruit vendor whose wares had been confiscated by authorities publicly set himself on fire.

Since the ouster of Tunisian dictator President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali just a month after the self-immolation, Tunisia has struggled to transition to a functioning democracy. The pains of transitioning from a police state to democracy has left some disillusioned with the promises of freedom and revolution.

“My wish? That Tunisia would stop and go back to the way we lived before,” said Nabiha Ben Said, an unemployed seamstress who had high hopes for democracy. “Life has gotten more expensive, too expensive in Tunisia. The population can’t handle freedom. It’s true. I swear to God. Look what freedom has done, where it’s taken us.”

Among the goals of the protesters who succeeded in bringing down the government was creating more opportunities for quality employment and reducing poverty. However, this has not happened, and Tunisians are worried about escalating violence and social tensions.

“The security situation makes a lot of people nervous, because they are used to the eerie stability of a police state, in which nothing really ever happened,” said Monica Marks, who studies Tunisia’s political system at Oxford University. “For average Tunisians this is a fragile situation, but it’s also a frightening situation. And that kind of fear and feeling of instability I think, make people very vulnerable to these discourses of stability, of authoritarianism bringing more stability.”

Warm up questions
  1. What is a police state?
  2. Where is Tunisia? What do you know about it?
  3. What is the “Arab Spring”? For an interactive timeline of the “Arab Spring” click here
Discussion questions
  1. What seem to be the biggest concerns from the people of Tunisia?
  2. How long do you think it takes to transform a revolution into a healthy democratic government? What pieces need to be in place to make that happen?
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