Congratulations Tunisia! No matter who is officially announced as the winner in a few days’ time, the second peaceful vote in four weeks has shown that this country is headed in the right direction – and it looks like it’s the only one in the Arab region. Libya is falling apart in a clan war, Syria is embroiled in a civil war, Egypt has reverted to a military dictatorship and Yemen is sinking into chaos. Only one small nation in North Africa got its act together, and that’s Tunisia. The appalling example of its Arab neighbors may have helped: almost everyone in Tunis has recognized the value of compromise for a democracy, even Tunisia’s moderate Ennahda Islamists. They realized, though late, that they can’t push through their idea of an Islamic state with a supreme religious authority in Tunisia any time soon.
Tunisians have had to muster incredible patience in the past four dramatic years. An entire country suffered an agonizingly long wait, during which very little or nothing was decided at any level at all. People have been shocked by the murder of two leftist politicians and numerous casualties due to terrorist attacks. Tourism never got off the ground, economic growth slumped, garbage collection collapsed. Prices have risen, and so has unemployment, in particular among young people. Many turned their backs on politics and the state as a result. Thousands travelled to Syria and Iraq to enlist as Islamist fighters, and every year, thousands attempt to flee to Europe. The dividend of the revolution – many people had expected quite something else.
All the same, the situation calls for recognition! Tunisia can look back on a year of progress. In January, the country got what must be the most progressive constitution in the Arab world: secularized, reasonably parliamentarian and with a focus on women’s equal rights. Parliamentary elections in October were free and peaceful, which is an exception in Africa and not a given in many other countries, either.