It's been two years
since Ben Ali packed his suitcase along with the passwords to his foreign bank accounts
and fled, in extremis, the wrath of the courageous people of Tunisia, leaving
behind some incredibly tacky trinkets and a country in need of fundamental rebuilding
-- but which first had to discover the full extent of the damage done.
And until now, Tunisia still
has not finished this process of "discovering."
Last week, the revolutionary
flag-bearer blog Nawaat published a long investigation [Fr, Ar] regarding a possible paramilitary apparatus connected
to the ruling Ennahda party. The week prior, two teenagers were
arrested for (gasp!) kissing in
public. On the evening of January 13, unknown criminals set fire to the famous mausoleum
of religious cleric Sidi Bou Said in the historic and touristic city of the
same name, burning it to the ground. Shortly thereafter, a group of extremists
were arrested in another Tunisian suburb for setting fire to a similar
The government reaction to
the criminal vandalism was delayed more than 24 hours. When President Marzouki
finally made his way to the bereft town -- on the eve of the January 14 anniversary
of the revolution that brought him to power -- he was met by a small and angry crowd chanting
"Dégage!" ("Go Away!") -- the same chant from 2011.
Another debate raging in
Tunis concerns the Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution, an umbrella
organization borrowing its name and legitimacy from the neighborhood protection
committees that citizens had set up to guard their neighborhoods during the
high time of the upheaval two years ago. Now a large segment of the population
suspects the Leagues of acting as the Ennahda party's enforcers. After earlier calling
for the dissolution of the Leagues, President Marzouki met with
them on Saturday,
reiterating, as he did in an interview Monday night, that "violence is a red
line" not to be crossed.
These are but a few examples
of the societal and political schisms Tunisians are grappling with. Religious
extremists are not a good thing to have in a country where the state no longer
has a monopoly to exercise violence (an essential precondition for government).
Tunisia today is not
where it hoped to be in January of 2011. This is what happens, however, when high
expectations meet the cold reality of politics. Nothing changes that quickly.
The mood on Bourguiba Avenue
in Tunis is, according to friends, less festive than it was a year ago. This
year's celebrations were dominated by political parties, and seemed more like
people trying to convince themselves and others that celebration was justified.
And yet justified it is.
Tunisia is unequivocally better off. Freedom of expression is the obvious
example, but even the political transition is advancing steadily. Negotiations
on the new constitution are well under way and the Constitutional Assembly will
soon deliver a draft. This week marked a new step in internet liberalization, with
a new amendment no
longer requiring internet providers to operate through the governmental
Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI), the regulatory body once in charge of internet
Perhaps, as Marc Lynch wrote for FP,
difficulties and disappointments are inevitable in the transition phase. A
reality check is needed -- in respect to expectations as well as to the
political process. The nation that seemed so united two years ago is now
divided by a deep political gulf; so perhaps co-habitation is the most likely
prospect, not seamless unity. Writing from Cairo, I am sending the warmest
wishes to all my friends in Tunis. And I can tell them that, if anything, they
are doing much, much better than
we are here.
Photo by FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images