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
Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
Review: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes looks on during his side's defeat to Everton
footballBaines and Mirallas score against United as Everton keep alive hopes of a top-four finish
Sport
Tour de France 2014Sir Rodney Walker on organising the UK stages of this year’s race
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Brown Findlay as Mary Yellan in ‘Jamaica Inn’
TVJessica Brown Findlay on playing the spirited heroine of Jamaica Inn
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
Football Vine shows Suarez writhing in pain before launching counter attack
News
People White House officials refuse to make comment on 275,000 signatures that want Justin Bieber's US visa revoked
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLE
Sport
Lukas Podolski celebrates one of his two goals in Arsenal's win over Hull
football
Arts & Entertainment
Quentin Tarantino, director
film
News
The speeding train nearly hit this US politican during a lecture on rail safety
news As the saying goes, you have to practice what you preach
Sport
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher

£130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

Do you want to work in Education?

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit