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MENAFN - Arab News - 15/01/2012

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(MENAFN - Arab News) On Saturday, Jan. 14, Tunisia celebrated the first anniversary of the success of its revolution, when its former president fled the country after 23 years of authoritarian rule.

When Tunisia's protests started in December 2010, they ignited what was later called the "Arab Spring," as popular protests spread across the Arab World and beyond.

In a message to the Tunisian people on this anniversary, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the world had been "inspired by the determination of Tunisians to demand democracy, freedom and dignity."

There are official celebrations, presided over by the new President Moncef Marzouki, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali and Constituent Assembly President Mustapha Ben Jaafar and attended by heads of state and dignitaries from other countries, all emphasizing the pioneering role of Tunis in the Arab Spring.

The apparently peaceful cohabitation of the occupants of Tunisia's top three positions is further evidence of the ability of Tunisians to chart new pluralistic territory in the Arab world, as the three represent different political orientations.

So the Tunisian experience may have been justifiably considered a year ago to be a model for popular revolts, but is there justification for such thinking today? It appears to me that, in retrospect, Tunisia's experience of peaceful and seamless transition of power has been more of an exception than a model. Revolts that have supposedly modeled themselves on its footsteps have been rather bloody, drawn-out affairs with no clear-cut outcomes in sight. This applies in varying degrees to Libya, Egypt, Syria and Yemen.

However, after the first anniversary celebrations, Tunisians should not sit on their laurels. There are signs that the revolution, while changing the faces and dismantling the ruling party, has not been able to meet the high expectations of a year ago, and some people cannot wait.

Last week, Ammar Ghars-Allah, a 40-year-old unemployed family man, set himself on fire in protest. His death was chillingly reminiscent of Mohammed Bouazizi's death that ignited the revolution in December 2010. Ammar's fate also points out that the vicious triumvirate of unemployment, poverty and despair cannot be realistically wiped out in a year. The naturally high expectations of ordinary folk were further raised by political campaigns that promised an unrealistically quick reversal of several decades of corruption and mismanagement.

As elsewhere in the region, Tunisia's revolt has, as expected, made conditions worse for large segments of society. According to economic reports, the economy is a standstill and unemployment has increased by nearly 40 percent. The protests, coupled with strikes, sit-ins and other industrial action, have led scores of key investors to leave the country. The current government estimates that Tunisia's losses during 2011 surpassed 1.5 billion. Restoring stability will therefore be key to reversing such a situation. Without economic growth, it would be difficult to generate the 100,000 new jobs that the government has promised in 2012.

While Tunisia celebrates victory over tyranny, I am sure that its new leaders recognize that all that remarkable political success in holding free elections and setting up a democratic government could be wiped out if economic conditions are not noticeably and quickly improved.


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