By Erik Churchill,
As Syria burns, Yemen teeters on the verge of total collapse, and Gaddafi hangs on by the skin of his teeth, many commentators and politicos are wondering whether the Arab Spring will in fact succeed. The reality is that it is inevitable that some of these countries will not succeed in creating anything close to a well-functioning democracy. Why not?
Just as the fall of the Berlin wall brought the success of democracy in central Europe, it also brought the economic failure of Belarus, the authoritarianism of the Stans, and the fragmentation of the Caucuses. Simply put, some countries are prone to succeed in their democratic development faster than others. The success of the spread of democracy in the Middle East and North Africa will depend largely on the underlying demographics, economics, and geopolitical importance of each post-revolutionary country. In this regard, Tunisia, the first country to throw its leader out, is the most likely candidate to succeed. Here’s why:
Unlike Bahrain or Syria, and to a lesser extent, Egypt, Tunisia has one of the most homogeneous populations in the Arab world. Even compared to its Maghreb neighbors, its Berber population is relatively well integrated – and much smaller. What does this mean? It means that the political turf battles that are an inevitable result of a political power vacuum will rely less on intractable problems, and more on resolvable problems, requiring consensus building.
In Bahrain, a political compromise would require a level of trust between the Sunni and Shia that would be all but impossible, without jeopardizing the principles of the uprising. In Tunisia, however, the political debate is confined to political ideologies and issues of governmental systems, a far easier problem to solve.
Besides a few thousand more immigrants per year going to Italy or France, Tunisia remains a relatively insignificant country in the region. Blessed neither with oil wealth or proximity to an important waterway (or Israel), Tunisia has the geopolitical significance of Honduras. And that’s a good thing for its democratic prospects.
Tunisia will not have to deal with the Isreali-Palestinian question nor where and how its exports get to foreign markets – the only requirement is that it doesn’t harbor terrorists. While this latter issue may have earned Ben Ali the plaudits of Western governments since 9/11, it does not represent the frontlines in the war on terror, and should escape the curse of foreign interference.
Politically-motivated Western investment
While Tunisia may not be geopolitically “important” enough to warrant installing a puppet government, that doesn’t mean the West doesn’t want it to succeed. In the face of the potential failure of all of the Arab uprisings to install truly democratic regimes, Tunisia could be the only success story – and the West is willing to pay for it.
The World Bank and the African Development Bank have already promised $1 billion dollars in investment to Tunisia, with another $300 million coming France, and billions from other bilateral donors. This investment is not the panacea for Tunisia’s problems, but it will help the country as it transitions. For the West, investing in Tunisia is a safer bet than any other Arab country right now, and one that promises the best chances for long-term success.
Middle income and not oil rich
As has been well documented by political theorists, the natural resource curse is one of the biggest determinants of a country’s path to democracy. Simply put, the chances of democracy succeeding in a country like Libya or Algeria are very low compared with non-resource rich countries. In addition, Tunisia has already reached the per-capita GDP figure that makes its stability and chances for democracy much stronger than poorer countries. In spite of the kleptocratic proclivities of the ancien regime, the Tunisian middle class grew and prospered (if not as much as it should have) over the past 20 years. The relatively well-educated middle class has a lot to gain from democracy and will serve as a positive impetus for democratic deepening.
Tunisia’s relatively strong middle class and access to markets (and the large foreign aid investments coming online) will make the chances of a strong democracy much more likely.
Tunisia never needed a dictator
If you’ve followed my first four arguments, you might ask – why did Tunisia ever even have a dictator? One of the great curiosities of Tunisia is why it accepted Ben Ali for so long in the first place. Many here in Tunisia are quick to blame the West’s support for the regime. While this undoubtedly played a role, I think a stronger argument could be made that Tunisian prosperity invited complacency. A prosperity that reached a critical mass of Tunisians who were willing to accept fewer freedoms in exchange for rising (or at least stable) living standards.
This complacency, coupled with the lack of democratic institutions during the colonial period, and the authoritarian (if liberal) instincts of the country’s first president, Habib Bourguiba, led to Ben Ali’s regime. Blasphemous in Tunisia today, it is widely known that a large part of the population supported Ben Ali to the very end. While his family (and wife) were reviled, Ben Ali was seen as someone who brought economic growth and stability to the country.
The reader might ask, if Tunisians were willing to accept the last dictator for 23 years, why not another? This is a valid question – and it could certainly prove to be true. However, the climate for democracy in Tunisia had never been better than it is today. Tunisians have tasted freedom, and they know that their (continued) prosperity will require their active participation.
MY LORD HELP TUNISIA TO OVERCAME THIS PERIODE
pourquoi la photo de ben jaafar sur un article parlanat de l’avenir et des perspectives en Tunisie???!!!! bizarrrrrr de la part d’une page se présentant comme étant indépendante!!!!!
encore une analyse qui ignore le danger que presentent RG et ses cohortes obscurantistes
We will make it, we will clean up the corrupted system. We will keep hope and faith in the future because we have the will to excel. The war will be long and cold against the corrupted leaders of Tunisia and it’s Vampires 9 I mean what they call the Elite class), je les apeele les arrivistes. We will make it because we have got a well educated young generation and we are determined not to go back to allow the next generations to say one day they we fought the evil in this country and we pravailed. Ila amem.
We will make it because we don’t have the choice. it’s a matter of DO or DIE. We will make it because we have experienced fear, poverty, oppression, injustice in this society and we don’t want to go back to the dark ages. We will make it because the Tunisian wisdom, knows how to face the storm with bravery, determination and honor. I see change in a positive way even when I am jobless.Winning or loosing will depend on how we see change. We have to keep a positive attitude towards this change in this hard time. We will need to work more in order to build the economy of the state. Brief, future will be what we make it now.
quel optimisme !!!!!!!!!!!! rien n’est sure !!! c’est de trop
En tant que l’auteur, j’ignore porquoi la photo de M. Jaafar. A propos de l’optimisme, c’est certain qu’il y a des risques enormes pour la Tunisie, comme pour tout les pays qui vient de s’en soritir de la dictature. Neanmoins, quand on compare la Tunisie a d’autres pays qui font face au defi qui est la democratie, je serai bien content d’etre dans la place des Tunisiens.
Bro Walid, I’ve already said that the war against corruption will be long and hard. But I think that my son will leave in a better society than where I spent my youth.
It will take us time, energy and sacrifices because sweet dreams are made of patience blood and sweat.
finally I prefer to face the storms with a smile even when I am going to hell rather than crying. At least I stand still.
@Hildegarde, c’est sur qu’il y a des risques que n’importe quel parti peut detourner le chemin vers la democratie. Des integristes, des fascistes, des autoritaires – ils veulent tous le pouvoir, mais – au moins en Tunisie il y a pas de petrole. :)
Fear has been defeated there’s no coming back!!
Pour votre information, on a decouvert a Kairouan un gisement dont les reserves s’elevent au 1/7 de l’outpout petrolier de Qatar (=100 milliards de USD) et qu’un contrat d’exploitation a ete deja signe avec une societe canadienne (qui a investit seulement 60 millions de USD et va avoir droit a 100% des droits d’exploitation – du jamais vu dans le secteur energetique). En plus, la Tunisie possede pres de 300,000 T d’uranium (qu’on peut facilement extraire a partir des mines de phosphate) – La ruee des multinationales et les 2 visites de Mc Cain et Kerry en Tunisie ne sont pas, certes, pour applaudir notre revolution mais plutot pour nous voler –
Quand a l’aide internationale qui ‘deferle’ – On en a pas besoin – Notre revolution se veut anti-systemique et nous avons assez de richesses pour gerer notre croissance – L’aide dont vous parlez est empoisonne.. avec un taux d’interet de 7%, nous devrions payer 6 fois l’argent que vos amis nous pretent !! Non Merci
U have got a point, but if you study the Tunisian economy you will find that we have a rich country. unfortunately corruption and lack of transparency has turned Tunisia into jail ran by 5 per cent of the population and who have 90 per cent of the wealth. contrary to the popular belief Tunisia is a rich country. I can’t believe this idea that we don’t have petrol so we are not rich. it’s all about governance.
We need a new way of thinking to change mainly local authorities, administration and the way they are doing things. I think the key of change is related to changing the way we use to do things.
@ramzi abbassi bravo bravo very good comment
Your assessment is to much cynical and neglects a major factor which is political consciousness. I can tell you as an example that our Syrian brothers and sisters, who are facing butchers beside which our toppled dictator may look like a sweet child, has a better chance than us to achieve true democracy given the courage they are showing and their impressive believe in their ideals. And the same political consciousness is what is holding together so impressively our Libyan and Yemeni brothers and sisters and will keep them so.
You have to go beyond cold geopolitical considerations to see the true picture.
I agree with you Anis, but we’ve already shown courage towards one of the worst regimes in the world. We gave martyrs also. the only difference is that the cost here in Tunisia was lower. I mean less collateral damage. Who said that Tunisians are conscious politically is totally wrong. My grandmother who is illiterate knows that locally im my Bled the ex_-Tajjemo3 are still here and it will take us a while to eradicate them or make them change their behaviour , attitude and their way of thinking
نشالله الكل ينجحوا :)
@Erik: The same geopolitical assessment approach was hammering that Tunisia was such a stable country a few months before the revolution and led the French and at a slightly lesser degree the US to support ZABA till the very last minute of his rule.
I can get back with you to examples as old as the Iran revolution but I’m sure you already got the message.
5 reasons why democracy in tunisia may not succeed
a)western countries don’t like the others to be democratic and good
b)even poor countries can be eaten:don’t forget colonialism
c)Western counties want to impose their own way of policy
d)Rich and strong countries want smaller ones to depend on them
e)tunisians aren’t as strong as some other populations
I’m sure there are many other reasons
ça devrai etre le contraire de ce que ce gentleman vient d’exposer : ns n’avons pas fait une revolution mais un soulevement : la difference est enorme
This assessment really suck! PS: next time try to be more creative in choosing your articles’s titles.
everything is possible when the will to succeed prevails in our
attitudes and beliefs.
first we need to unshackle ourselves from the prevailing lethargy,
have a clear vision and take the appropriate steps or actions.
we will get there if we make it a must not a maybe.
the right vision,clarity of goals and lots of hard work then the outcome will look after itself…..realised.
we took a stand: revolt if you prefer but have we taken the right
steps as a follow up?.
that’s the question to be answered and only time will tell.
japan,sweden,switzerland to name few aren’t blessed with more
natural resources than tunisia.
the biggest capital a nation has is it’s people.
@Anis, I don’t think you can take out geopolitical considerations when considering whether or not a country can become a true democracy. I certainly agree that the first step toward democracy is political consciousness and courage from a population, but I would argue that other outside elements help to encourage or discourage this process. In Saudi Arabia the headwinds are much stronger against a democracy activist than in a country without its riches or strategic importance. That said, I would certainly accept your argument that the mirage of “stability” has been shattered.
This is good article and I agree with most of what’s said about Tunisia. The only thing that I can add to the factors that would make democracy possible in Tunisia is that Tunisians are very well educated and somehow more peacefull than others.
Other Arab countries like Egypt and Libya will be democratic like Tunisia!
“Blessed neither with oil wealth or proximity to an important waterway (or Israel)” and “Tunisia will not have to deal with the Isreali-Palestinian question”. These two assupmtions are biased if not totally wrong. the author shoud ask Tunisians about sionism and the conflict and he will realize how much the first is hated and how the second is an integrated part of their concerns. Revolutions, dear Sir, do not deal with economic well-being only but above all with dignity, justice, solidarity and fraternity. This was the case with Vietnam. This is still the case with the suffering of Palestinians.
It’s not a question of Tunisian interest in the Palestinian conflict, it’s a question of whether Tunisian government’s stand matters. In Egypt the vast majority of people support Palestine and yet the Mubarak government made peace with Israel. This will be a challenge as Egypt tries to democratize. Tunisians will not have to face this geopolitical challenge – even if, as you say, they remain solidaire with the Palestinian cause.
What you wrote about Tunisia being geopolitically insignificant is right (and, contrary to what you wrote, this is neither a good thing nor a bad one for “its democratic prospects”).
But I still do not see the link between this insignificance and the fact that “Tunisia will not have to deal with the Isreali-Palestinian question”, unless you are writing things from israeli point of view and adopting it!
From this angle, indeed, Israel fears more the egyptian revolution than the tunisian one. But imagine if other arab countries succeed in their respective revolutions, which is likely to happen at least for some of them, and assuming that democracy is well institutionalised, which is plausible, and keeping in mind that democracy has something to do with the people’s will, these countries can easily become gepolitically significant.
@ Mr Eric churchill
FYI : it was not Mubarak who made peace with Israel , it was Anwar Sadat with Manaheim Begin and it was hosted by Jimmy Carter at Camp David.
wild el bled.
because the t u n i s i a n s are not arabic in blood
N’importe quoi!!!……Par contre je pense parce que il n’y a pas beaucoup qui pensent comme vous….
What’s this rubbish? Of course tunisians are arabic and muslim in blood ?The only reason is the distance
@ FF – (FF stands for Fuck the Fascists?) I am Tunisian and I don’t feel like I am an Arab- I don’t know about you but from now on please refrain from talking in the name of all and everybody.
As someone who lived in Tunis in the mid 1960’s when Bourguiba was at the height of his powers and again in the mid 1980’s when he was a pale shadow of his earlier self, I hesitate to comment on current events. However, I have a few comments.
First, I am optimistic that this generationof Tunisians can and will create the political reform needed to give both a voice to all elements of the poplulation and a framework that will allow Tunisia’s very considerable physical assets and human talents and capcities to breath new life into its economy.
Second, genuine political reform is never easy under the best of circumstances. In Tunisia’s case, the process will begin with a free and fair election for a constituent assembly that will forge a new constitution that wins legitimacy because it reflects a broad poopular consensus. That means consolidating the gains of the past 50 years and ending the abuses that took root during that period.
Third, and probably most difficult it means new political leaders and insitutions committed to implementing the political reforms in ways that encourage them to harden into a solid framework for future gains.
None of this will be easy. The current debate over the place and role of Islam is passionate and consuming. The role and freedom of the media, both social and traditional,is being challenged on many fronts. Tensions in the region and defining a new relationsship with France and the European Union are a further challenge.
I too am confident that Tunisia will meet these challenges and emerge as model for other countries in the midst of popular upheavals. Why? Because Tunisians are educated, intelligent and highly capable. The grandchildren of Bourguiba are an impressive generation whose men and women are ready to achieve the great things that he envisioned in 1957 when he opened the door to universal education and made women equal under the law.
True, the road ahead will be bumpy but real change is never easy.
Good luck to you all.
in two 2 years
This is it! We need many friends of your like! We need optimism more that any thing else!
@ author , @Friend of Tunisia
is your article/comment a prelude to the visit of senator john mc cain and co. to Tunisia?
No, just the perspective of someone who would very much like to see the success of Tunisian democracy – and who thinks it is achievable.
No, it is not. I am coming on a private visit to reconnect with old friends and to see first hand what it means to extend a revolutionary moment into a functioning democracy.
so far nothing sprang from this spring.
but tunisians flowers that showed their heads have being mowed by the snipers who our prime minister thinks
they are a pigment of our imagination.
where has all our flowers gone and what for?.
at the moment for a lost cause but hoping tunisians won’t
allow that to happen.
we will fulfill their wishes and meet our aspirations.
don’t let them and us down?.
lets rise to the occasion tunisians.?
When I read this article and others I realize that democratie is already here. The debates, our self contiousness as a nation etc is The first, and most important step towards democratie.
@FF and @dreamliner: We (maghrebi people) are not arabs. Muslims, yes, but not arabs. We are arabised berbers (huge diff)….. Even our derija is hard to undetstand (if note customised for eastern arabes). These are our roots, long before, cartago, romans arabes frensh invaded us…. stop this pan-arab craporama…. It’s not us….
I am confident too that the Tunisian Revolution will bloom, because of what happened in Dec 2010 and Jan 2011, bullets and clubs and tear gas didn’t stop the young and not so young Tunisians, they vanquished fear and there is no coming back – The Tunisian Gov and International Community should address the biggest hurdle for this Revolution to fully succeed : give the newly freed youngsters a Job –
Makes no sense to be free and unemployed.
All North African countries are going to succeed in implementing democratic government. Tunisia and Egypt maybe faster to do that but Libya will start as soon as the Mad Gay die or run out of the country.
As for the Middle Eastern countries, I am not sure what the fate is going to be. It is quite different set of mind in there.
I personally share your views. Thank you for expressing them so clearly.
To Erik Churchill,
Don’t know how u can write this bullshit.
Hope reality ‘ll kick ur ass hard.
The most stupidest analysis I ever heard. “Westerners” keep your mouth shut and stop analysing. You did more harm to this part of the world than the Chinese. The new generation of Nord-African and Middle Eastern are educated enough to analyse themselves what is good for them or not. One thing that they learn is not trusting the “Westerners”; in particular the old colonial powers. The systems coming out of the “Arab Spring” will be as competitif as the so called “western democraties” and amplifying western propagada in our forums is childish.
I appreciate your optimism , and I may agree to acertain extand with you , but I have to desagree in quite few area.
and here I’m going to start with the end : you said that Ben Ali was supported by the majority of Tunisians till the end , you are totally wrong on that point , and the only reason Tunisians were (supportive) as you say , is because they have no choice , either you support Ben Ali or you are with the opposition , and in that case you are going to souffer and so your family and friends , because there’s no justice .
for the billions of dollars that were poured or going to be in the banks of Tunisia to help the economy , well sir , nothing is for free the Tunisians tax payer will pay that amount a double or more ,and all this delegations either from Europe or the USA are not for nothing , but for the benefit of you know who first and then their own. and not for the benefit of Tunisia .
You talking about harboring terrorism , would you please explain to me terrorism ? because here is a lot to talk about .
I can tell you and up to now any decision made by either Europeans or the USA in regard to the arab uprising is all based on calculation and not humanitarian , yes we appreciate the help , but we are aware of the consequences , and believe me we are ( the peoples of Tunisia) going to keep any leadership in Tunisia on their toes , because we will never surrender anymore to anyone unless we are dead bodies. and who ever going to lead the government of Tunisia in the future , he and his government will be responsible for their act and decisions. yes we are a small country with limited resources , but our force is in our unity and our mind and soul and our love for each other and for our land .
wild el bled
@wildelbled Thanks for your thoughtful response. You raise important points. I would clarify that I did not say that a majority of Tunisians supported Ben Ali, but certainly many did (and some still probably would). There is no doubt that he bled this country dry and the vast majority of Tunisians are happy that he and his clan are gone.
When I mentioned terrorism, I meant this from the perception of Western countries. I think that after 9/11, Western countries were willing to support anybody (including Ghaddafi), as long as they said they were fighting terrorism.
In regards to your last point, I couldn’t agree with you more – Tunisians must shape their future. I think that we are seeing this happen and I am hopeful for this.
1000 and one reason why it will fail:
coz, you copy France like stupid donkeys: “assemblée constituante”, Marzoukipierre and Benbrikanton … hahaha …
no originality. no way.
Agree with your analysis and hope you’ll prove right, but I won’t bet on it. Yes, if an Arab country were ever primed for a democratic transition, then Tunisia it is. The other candidates (Lebanon, Algeria, Morocco possibly)are either too close to the fault-line, mired in a myriad of inextricable problems, or both. Tunisia does also boast an impressive track-record for the region: first to have a constitution, abolish slavery, have a trade union, recognize women’s rights, institute universal education or have a human-rights league.
With the ingredients you mention and such an enviable track-record, how could it possibly go wrong, one may ask? The answer is that for all our “firsts” we do carry an intractable liability side, two aspects of which being particularly important:
1. Freedom is not our first instinct
We have a tendency to measure our personal freedom by our ability to restrict other people’s freedom. We have a tendency to measure the depth of our own faith by the respect or disrespect shown to it by others, rather than by its intrinsic presence in our hearts. If freedom were our first instinct, we would not have put up with a mediocre and violent tyrant for 23 years. Indeed with a continuum of tyrannies for the past 3000 years. The truth that we don’t want to see is that ZABA was not an accidental weed in a garden of roses. He is, to variable degrees, in each one of us, including his most intractable opponents. Just look at our activists and post-revolutionary political class: all ZABAClones. Some more perfected than others, but basically ZABAClones.
2. Taking up personal responsibility is not our first instinct.
Just like our wider Arab environment, we prefer to that the comfort of victimization as amplified by an over-glorified past. We substituted “the West” to Persia and Byzantium and when the West is gone, will as easily replace it with anything else. China, Sierra Leone or Niue, it does not really matter as long as it is someone else. More locally, we are in the priphery of the periphery and yet maintain that if our revolution won’t succeed it is not because we fail to integrate the concepts of freedom and right of difference in our thinking, but because some obscure outside powers do not wish us well.
Now, is there hope? Yes, there is. The battle is between entrenched conservative tendencies in all strata of Tunisian society, and the taste of freedom enjoyed by many people since 14/1. The hope is that this taste will prevail and that a majority of Tunisians arrive to the conclusion that freedom, with all its unknowns, apparent chaos and norm-shifting, is always preferable to tyranny. That they look back and say: never again.
With respect to the Arab World generally, I believe that with the House of Saud in the power position that is theirs today, change, if it occurs, will not endure. I fail to understand the cecity of the West’s continued support for arguably the most retrograde, sclerotic and schizophrenic force in the region.
This is an outstanding analysis and prediction. You got it right before any bonehead at the Washinton Post or New York Times even had time to research where Tunisia was on the map. I think it would be very interesting to hear your thoughts on the rest of the Arab world now.
Still true after 8 years :)