x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Tunisia’s roadmap is cause for hope

Unlike other Arab Spring countries, Tunisia has been able to find a way out of the apparent impasse without wide-scale bloodshed.

Even during the worst moments of its post-revolutionary period, Tunisia has still looked like the best transition of the Arab Spring. No doubt, it has been bloody – people have lost their lives – not only during the revolution that unseated Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, but in the protests that have rocked the country this year. Two politicians have been assassinated, and many have had their lives disrupted as the protests affected major cities.

And yet, contrasted with some of the violence in its North African neighbours, Libya and Egypt, Tunisia has looked safe, stable and has slowly found its way forward. Take the signing on Saturday of a “roadmap” aimed at ending the Ennahda-led coalition within three weeks and replacing it with a government of independents. The language of this transition was calm and measured: there will be preparations ahead of Ennahda stepping down, a date will be decided in advance, and there is a timetable for the whole process.

Tunisia is small, has a broad middle-class and an army not keen to interfere in political affairs.

By contrast, Egypt is the largest country in the Arab world and a bellwether for the entire region. The country that is too big to fail has been watched closely and prodded incessantly by the international community. Tunisia, meanwhile, has been left to its own devices.

That’s why this roadmap ought to work, or at least has a chance to. The Islamists of Ennahda, having lost popular support, have stood aside to allow a new government to write a constitution and prepare for elections. It may be somewhat ambitious to ask for a new constitution within a month, when the departing coalition has not been able to come up with one in over a year, but there is at least a process in place.

Since protests began in Tunisia at the start of this year after the murder of an opposition politician, the country has looked fragile, torn between a coalition that refused to give up power and a protest movement increasingly determined to oust them. With the help of other political actors, such as the country’s largest trade union confederation, which mediated talks, Tunisia has been able to find a way out of the apparent impasse without wide-scale bloodshed. Alas that not every post-Arab Spring country can say the same.