The Guardian view on Tunisia unrest: riots redux? | Editorial | Opinion


Tunisia is starting to feel a lot like 2011. Then the self-immolation of a street vendor over repression and unemployment sparked an uprising that became the Arab spring, beginning with the fall of the Tunisian strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Now, seven years after the dictator’s departure, Tunisians have taken to the streets over an austerity programme and rising prices. At least one demonstrator has been killed and hundreds arrested in sometimes violent confrontations.

For some, Tunisia may be too small, too lacking in oil wealth or too lightly populated to warrant much attention. But since 2011 it has eclipsed all other Arab nations in building democratic institutions and adopting a liberal constitution. Civil society won a Nobel peace prize. Tunisia’s gains were not easily achieved; nor are they close to secure. Successive governments have failed to bring about the kind of revival Tunisians hoped for from elective government. The north African economy is lacklustre, unable to create enough jobs and with its foreign exchange earner – tourism – battered by terror attacks. It’s been forced to borrow $2.9bn from the IMF, in return for which unpopular price hikes and spending cuts are being pushed.

Since 2011 the achievements have been political: bitter opponents have been reconciled and the Islamist party, Ennahda, mainstreamed. This is no small achievement in a country that for 22 years was a police state. Ennahda’s main goal is to survive. In 2013 it dissolved its ruling coalition in the wake of public anger over security lapses and economic instability – a step that prevented a confrontation with secular opponents. Now it is the secularists who are in charge and face protests. Ennahda, the largest party, has become part of a government playing with fire in the dry tinder of inequalities and graft. In Tunisia the Arab street ousted a dictator. It could also oust democrats.

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