SEATTLE — Beginning on December 18, 2010, the Arab World underwent a change whose effects are still being felt throughout the Middle East. What came to be known as “The Arab Spring” first overthrew the government of Tunisia, and continued on to Egypt and various other countries. However, the greatest success in the series of these uprisings is regarded to be the political progress in Tunisia.
The Arab Spring allegedly began with a 26-year-old Tunisian fruit and vegetable vendor who was struggling to support a family of eight on $150 a month. After his goods were confiscated by the government and his appeals for justice were ignored, he lit himself on fire, an act which would act as the catalyst for revolution throughout his country.
In the ensuing months, the Tunisian government was overthrown, and the ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his family were forced to flee to Saudi Arabia for asylum. Over the course of the next months and years, previous government officials were tried and convicted of their crimes. A more transparent and constitution-abiding government was formed.
Since that time, the Tunisian populace has experienced an increase in human rights and freedoms that had previously been inaccessible to them. These gradually augmented until finally in 2014 a newly drafted constitution emerged. This new legislation gave a guarantee of equal rights for men and women, checks on governmental corruption, and freedom of conscience, and Islam is recognized as the states religion.
Though political progress in Tunisia has taken great strides in the past five years, it also has no shortage of critics. A prevalent issue at the signing of the constitution was the failure to abolish capital punishment. In addition, some forms of the freedom of speech are heavily monitored. Vocally criticizing religion or the religious practices of others is illegal.
The economy also continues to be a cause of concern for onlookers. Unemployment among educated youth, a widespread reason for the initiation of the Arab spring, continues to hold high rates and hinder innovation. Some have surmised that the reason for this high rate of joblessness is the lack of necessity that the current Tunisian economy has of educated innovators. They simply need low-skilled laborers who can produce the necessities of life.
Various international organizations are addressing solutions to this problem. The Hunger Project has prescribed a refocus of education that directs studies toward the industries that are in demand and more importantly, an investment in job creation on large and small-scale platforms to allow for sustainable progression within the country.
USAID is one organization that has contributed millions of dollars to enterprise development on all economic scales. They have also heavily worked in conjunction with large worldwide corporations like Hewlett-Packard to develop a job market that will have more ability to accommodate highly educated individuals in their specializations. In addition to job creation, USAID is assisting in the capacitation of individuals into industries such as information technology.
Ultimately, though economic progress still has much room for improvement, the political progress that Tunisia has made in the last five years has opened up the possibility of equal opportunity.
Though the country still continues to grapple with its past identity of authoritarian rule, political progress in Tunisia is, as political scientist Laryssa Chomiak has put it, “irreversible.” Five years after the revolution, debates are being sparked regarding subjects that were previously forbidden to discuss. Unemployment is on the decline, and poverty that previously stemmed from inequality and corruption is being eliminated.
– Preston Rust