Is ‘Game Over’ in Tunisia?

Is ‘Game Over’ in Tunisia?

The protests and revolutions that swept across the Arab world this year began last December with the self immolation of a Tunisian street vendor. The Oct. 23 Constituent Assembly elections in Tunisia constitute the first open democratic elections in many decades. Coming after the referendum in Egypt, this election is crucial not only for Tunisia but for the whole Arab World.

It is believed that Tunisia’s success or failure on Oct. 23, then, will be vital both for its citizens and for the Arab world at large.

A special report by a Turkish political observer of Middle Eastern politics stated: “In many ways, Tunisia is the country with the best chance of producing a functional democracy in the Arab world. It is relatively small and homogeneous, with a liberal society that leads the region in women’s rights. If Tunisia cannot do it, nobody can.”

When Tunisians took to the streets following the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi on Dec. 17, 2010, they made the seemingly impossible possible, forcing the ouster of long-time President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14. Yet Tunisia’s revolution is far from complete, and the country is still facing many challenges.

“Game over!” was written on the front of a post-revolution T-shirt referring to the ousting of the authoritarian regime. Nevertheless, it seems that the “game” is far from being “over.” It is just starting with the experiment of democracy, since democracy is more “playful” than authoritarian regimes that depend on “repressive stability.”

Moreover, the above mentioned report reminds us that Tunisia does not have a culture of democratic elections, because most parties besides Ben Ali’s RCD party were banned for decades. Consequently, a lot of people suffered from political disenfranchisement, and many political actors and citizens retreated from politics completely. No wonder that with thousands of candidates, over 100 political parties and many independents, many registered voters still do not know whom they will vote for.

Tasked by Tunisia’s interim government with rewriting the constitution, the elected Constituent Assembly will have high responsibility in directing Tunisia’s future. Not only will it have the vital task of rewriting the Tunisian constitution, it will also have the power to either appoint a new government, or to extend the term of the current government until Tunisia’s general elections, the date of which is still unknown. In the pursuit of democracy, plurality, transparency and human rights, there may be nothing more important than a legitimate government, and the responsibility for creating a new Tunisia rests firmly on the shoulders of the Constituent Assembly.

I spent the weekend in Tunisia observing the election atmosphere in post-revolutionary Tunisia. The general mood is good and exciting, but I have not seen much difference in the daily life. It confirms the fact that the Tunisian revolution was the “mildest” in the region. We will see what will follow.