x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Tunisia leads the way on reinvention

The dismissal of corrupt magistrates is more evidence that Tunisia is making steady progress in becoming a well-governed state.

In any general discussion of this region, it's far too easy to concentrate on the negatives. The headlines are dominated by carnage in Syria, the recalcitrance of Iran over its nuclear energy policy, continuing uncertainty in Iraq, squabbles over the spoils in post-Qaddafi Libya, chaos and violence swirling around the Egyptian presidential election and the continuing misery of the Palestinians. But it's not all doom and gloom.

The new government in Tunisia has, quietly but consistently, ushered in the types of reforms other states could emulate. The most recent example came at the weekend, when leaders there purged 81 corrupt magistrates linked to the ejected president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

In an interview published on Saturday, Justice Minister Nourdine Bhiri said the magistrates "obeyed orders and dabbled in embezzlements, while handing down rulings in violation of the law to protect personal interests". He stressed the 2,000 remaining magistrates were "upright".

No details have been given about those who were sacked, giving rise to claims of unjust political retaliation, but the move sends an important message in the country where the Arab Spring began. It appears that after free and fair elections last year, genuine steps are now being made to root out the kind of official corruption that led street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi to a dramatic act of self-immolation in December 2010.

In a report earlier this month, the International Crisis Group, which has followed Tunisia's progress closely, noted that "in an Arab world marred by stalled and bloody transitions, Tunisia still stands out as an exception. Since January 2011, not only has the former leader ... fallen from power, but an entire system has been overwhelmed, if not overhauled, relatively peacefully and with the support of a fairly broad consensus". Mr Ben Ali and his wife, meanwhile, have been convicted in absentia of corruption.

Much work remains in rebuilding Tunisia. For one, rooting out the nepotism that came to define the Ben Ali era will take time. Moreover, to quote the ICG, there remain disconnects between central and peripheral regions, between Islamist and secular forces and between heirs to the old regime and supporters of the new order.

Yet so far this nation of 10.5 million is providing a positive template for other Arab countries trying to reinvent themselves in the wake of popular protest. A region still in the throes of chaos can only benefit from more examples of how to do things right.