Once again, demonstrations have erupted across Tunisia against the government’s ineffective economic policies. Prices of basic goods are skyrocketing due to tax raises and austerity measures applied under the 2018 Finance Act, which took effect on 1 January 2018.
Among all the countries that went through the 2011 Arab upheavals, Tunisia is seen as the only country that has successfully sustained fair levels of democracy, peace and stability. On the economic and social development side, however, the country has witnessed continuous failure. Prices and taxes, poverty and unemployment, and inequality were, rather, in a rapid increase.
It is a success, in fact, for the Tunisian people to maintain peaceful protests this long; in spite of the chaos that have swept the entire region of the Middle East and North Africa. There is all of the hope in the world that Tunisia will continue its way in being an example for peace in the region and the world.
For the past six years, protests have become a norm at this time of the year in Tunisia, which marks the anniversary of toppling President Zine el Abedine Ben Ali as well as the death of Bouazizi. During this week’s protests, however, some people acted with violence, burning down the country’s national security building in Thala.
The government, ruled by coalition parties, led by Nahda and Nidaa, has decried the protests as “destructive” and “chaotic”. The police have retreated in some Tunisian cities and the army was deployed in several others. More than 300 protesters were arrested and at least one person’s life has been claimed during the demonstrations.
At this point, gloomy predictions on the outcomes of the protests usually start with the question: will the security apparatus turn to violence? Reassuringly, among the factors that made the 2011 Tunisian experience unique is that the security apparatus defied orders to suppress protesters.
Leaders of the opposition party, the Popular Front, called for the protests to continue until the new financial laws get dropped. Thus, the people plan to continue taking to the streets in the coming days. It is important too that everyone knows, the government and the people, and the international community as well, that there is still plenty of time to keep the peaceful momentum going.
- The people should continue to peacefully voice their demands; be it lowering prices, cutting taxes, reconsidering some of the privatization decisions, creating efficient welfare programs, or all of the above.
- The government has to be responsive to its own people and deliver effectively. Nine political transitions in only six years, although peaceful, does not necessarily indicate progressiveness and raises many questions about the sincerity and legitimacy of the ruling elites. What is required is a balanced response that takes into account immediate political and economic concessions and transparent long-term development plans for the country.
- The international community also has the responsibility to invest in the success of this unique situation, rather than pushing the country into the edge of chaos. This week’s unrest erupted in response to austerity policies that are being pushed for by foreign lenders, particularly the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It is worth a reminder that the IMF and the World Bank have pushed for similar policies in the past, and, in fact, have had praised Ben Ali’s liberalizing policies since 1987. Preserving Tunisian democracy by safeguarding the country’s development and setting a progressive, stable and peaceful example for the world is in the interest of the international community.