After the spring, the thaw: Tunisia

The year of revolution: In the second part of our series, Rachel Shabi sees grounds for cautious optimism in the new Tunisia

When Jannet, a 57-year-old woman in Tunis, started to cry, with relief and joy, at the thought of voting for the first time in her life, it captured all the potency and meaning of her country's elections. She was one of those I spoke with in the run-up to Tunisia's ballot, held in October – the first free elections of the Arab Spring, in the country where the first Arab uprisings had inspired a chain reaction across the region. Later, pro-democracy protesters in other Arab countries told me that they had pored over these images – of Tunisians celebrating their historic vote – captivated both by the moment itself, and by the possibility of feeling like that, too. Because in the tears of one woman in Tunis was also a distillation of what those fearlessly fought uprisings were for: the desire for involvement and inclusion in the running of a country, after decades of being shut out, cowed down and tyrannised. To be able to stand up, finally, and say: "This counts. I matter."

If the common theme of the Arab uprisings was the desire for dignity, Tunisia's historic election showed what that could look like. During the campaign period, voters were rising up to the responsibility, declaring it a "duty", studying the copious campaign leaflets – there were more than 100 parties and 11,000 candidates – and grilling potential politicians. This was worlds away from the openly rigged elections of the ousted Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali regime, which one Tunisian described as running to this script: "Every five years, we would just watch a rerun of the same movie, where Ben Ali would win the election by 99 per cent."

Last Saturday, we saw the result of that election: a new, interim government was sworn in by a new president, the once-jailed former dissident Moncef Marzouki, whose centre-left party is in coalition with the moderate, once-banned Islamist Ennahda party, which took the majority of the vote.

After the government ceremony, Marzouki gave the new cabinet a simple instruction: "To work, to work, to work." It's what Tunisia needs – unemployment is currently at 20 per cent and economic growth has flatlined this year. The ordinarily robust tourism industry this year took a 40 per cent dive as travellers were put off by the upheavals. The new Prime Minister, Hamadi Jebali, of the Ennahda party, said last week that job creation and compensating victims of the former regime would be key priorities.

There are other concerns, too – and as one Tunis-based blogger pointed out, pro-democracy protesters now need their critical capacities not to be blunted by a paternalistically over-rosy analysis of the post-election period. Civil rights have still to be set in legal stone; transparent government and freedom of speech are still high on the list of issues for Tunisian campaigners.

But the cabinet now sworn in was the result of heated negotiations in the 217-seat assembly over the suitability of each minister – in particular Rafik Ben Abdessalem Bouchlaka, whose appointment, critics say, is more to do with his being the son-in-law of Ennahda leader Rachid al-Ghannushi than about actual merit. Meanwhile, hundreds of tents, in the spirit of the global occupy movement, stand outside parliament, a symbolic and practical means of keeping it accountable. Tunisia's Labour Union is currently holding its first post-revolution congress, where women are demanding that gender equality be enshrined in the union constitution. All this difference of opinion, debate and protest; every tent rally and workers' congress – these look like good signs.

Timeline: Tunisian change

17 December 2010 – Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor, sets himself on fire.

14 January 2011 – Weeks of protest sparked by Bouazizi's death ends with President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fleeing to Saudi Arabia.

20 June – Ben Ali and his wife, Leila, are sentenced in absentia to 35 years' imprisonment and £48m in fines, for theft and misuse of public funds.

27 October – The Islamist Ennahda party is declared winner of the election, with 40 per cent of the seats.

13 December – Former opposition leader Moncef Marzouki is sworn in as President, elected by a parliamentary majority.

After the spring, the thaw: Egypt. The year of revolution: In the second part of our series, Alastair Beach looks back at the sense of euphoria and then disillusionment that swept Cairo

Suggested Topics
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little