I had the reputation of being the most poised person in the family, not taking criticism personally and keeping my cool in the midst of storms. But lately I often get angry. Because in many parts of Tunisia I hear: nothing has changed!
When Tunisians talk about Tunisia, modesty and humility are not the first characteristics. We are extremely proud since we believe we have the best food, the finest weather, outstanding art, design and historical heritage etc. Our Coliseum at El Djem is better preserved than the one in Rome, our mosaic collections are the greatest in the world. We were the first Muslim country to abolish slavery in 1846 and the first Arab state to formally abolish polygamy in 1956, and women in Tunisia enjoy some of the greatest freedoms in the Arab world.
Implementations of democratic routines still in the making
But when it comes to one of the most remarkable achievements of our recent history, our democratic revolution in 2011 and its success thereafter, then suddenly our pride fades away.
Let’s not forget that Tunisia today is a full-fledged democracy. Yes, we are all learning what it really means and the implementation of democratic routines is still in the making. But if anyone had told you just a decade ago that there will be an Arab country that is 100 per cent democratic, you would have answered: impossible.
One of the most modern constitutions in the world
Secondly, we have one of the most modern constitutions in the world. It includes familiar rights such as freedom of speech but also innovative ones like the right to a clean environment or the protection of women against violence. And in 2014 we had democratic, free and accepted parliamentary and presidential elections. I vividly remember the day in February 2015 when my colleagues and I handed over the leadership of the country. We were moved to tears to be part of such a historic moment, a peaceful change of government.
Finally the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Tunisian ‘National Dialogue Quartet’, recognising its unique journey in dialogue and conflict resolution. The term ‘Tunisian Way’ has been coined and is in use today in political science, and our neighbour Libya, for example, is struggling to find a similar way out of the crisis.
Extremism is threatening our free world
Unfortunately, we do and did not celebrate these achievements enough. And some radical groups are using and abusing the ‘nothing has changed’ image to attract youth into extremist endeavours. Extremism and the sense that the future has nothing to offer are threatening our free world – regardless of the nationality of the extremists. Attacks like the one in Berlin in December 2016 must not happen again.
At the beginning, Tunisian civil society was motivated, engaged and proactive in its fight for rights. It was involved at the highest level in co-creating the new constitution. However, in recent months, one can feel a tiredness, maybe even a helplessness among the citizens.
True: youth unemployment and corruption, which were among the root causes of the Jasmine Revolution, are still challenging us. But are we aware that political, social and economic change cannot happen overnight? That other countries needed centuries to achieve what we have achieved in five years? That today after the revolution a new task is awaiting Tunisia: the long, perilous and rewarding work of an evolution. An evolution in culture, education, a new social contract and the building of strong institutions are the areas of focus. We are in the midst of that process and sometimes overlook the progress we have made. But we are well on our way. So let’s stop saying nothing has changed.
Amel Karboul is Secretary General of the Maghreb Economic Forum. She served as Minister of Tourism in Tunisia’s interim government after the Arab Spring.
published in akzente 1/17