Parliamentary elections, presidential elections, the forming of a new government – Tunisia’s young democracy has covered many milestones within the last months. What picture of Tunisia has been conveyed in German media during this important period in history? The following is an overview of how German journalists portray the political situation in Tunisia at the moment and which aspects catch their interest.
How people in Germany think about Tunisia depends mainly on how the country is presented in German media. The following is an overview of how journalists in German media write about Tunisia and which aspects they highlight. The evaluation is based upon articles that appeared in influential German newspapers, news magazines, websites and public broadcasting features published online between October 2014 and February 2015. This article is by no means a scientific analysis and instead offers an overview of tendencies in German media. Not surprisingly, most articles on Tunisia feature current events like the elections results. This news-based reporting will not be especially highlighted here, instead we will focus on certain topics and perspectives that show up frequently.
1 Tunisia as a Shining Example
The most common image of Tunisian politics in German media over the past few months features an emphasis on Tunisia’s successful democratic evolution, in comparison with other countries that experienced Arab spring protests. Tunisia is depicted as a shining example in contrast to the other counties that bear heavy burdens of conflict and chaos. The country is praised for its new constitution, smooth parliamentary and presidential elections, and compromise between rivaling political groups.
Journalists stress this uniqueness by naming Tunisia a „Leuchtturm“ (lighthouse), a „Blüte“ (blossom) or a “Musterbeispiel” (prime example) of the region. The conservative newspaper “Die Welt” as well as the left-leaning newspaper “taz. Die Tageszeitung” use approbative headlines for their opinion pieces: The title of a commentary in “Die Welt”, published just before the parliamentary elections, is “Tunesien ist die Hoffnung der arabischen Welt” (Tunisia is the hope of the Arab world) and “taz. Die Tageszeitung” sums up after the first round of presidential election: “Glückwunsch, Tunesien!” (Congrats, Tunisia!) In contrast, the sober tenor of the headline “Der Jasmin ist verwelkt” (the jasmine is withered), which appeared in centre-left “Süddeutsche Zeitung” also just before the parliamentary elections, is rather unusual.
This image of Tunisia as a shining example is not restricted to the commentary section or analyses, but it is also used in news reports.
2 Pressing Challenges
Despite all the praise, a considerable amount of articles in German media focus on the challenges that Tunisia, its government, the opposition and civil society still have to face: improving the weak economy, creating jobs, stabilizing democracy and combating terrorism. In opinion pieces journalists usually express at the same time a certain optimism that Tunisia will succeed in tackling these issues. A commentator in “Die Welt”, for example, writes after the second round of presidential elections: “Tunesien hat eine gute Chance. Und es ist die Chance für die freie Welt zu zeigen, dass sich Demokratie lohnt.” In English: Tunisia’s prospects are good. And this is also the chance for the free world to show democracy is worthwhile.
3 Tunisians joining Islamic State
Between 2,400 and 3,000 Tunisians have gone to Syria or Iraq to join the extremist group Islamic State. Although Tunisia’s population counts just 11 million people, there is no other country from which more foreign fighters have left to IS. Several articles appeared in German media during the last months on this topic, searching for answers as to why jihad allures so many Tunisians, who are well educated and experience freedom and democracy.
An article in weekly news magazine “Der Spiegel” offers two reasons: First, Tunisians are disappointed in their new freedoms, as many aspects of daily life have not changed, police are brutal as ever, and one in three men with a university degree is unemployed. Second, radical Islamists could recruit new jihadists openly for a long time in Tunisia. Therefore, “Der Spiegel” polemically concludes, all those young well-educated Tunisians who do not find a job have a choice between three options: hoping for years for a job in Tunisia, taking a ship to Europe – or jihad in Syria.
Other possible explanations are offered in a “Süddeutsche Zeitung” article: religious extremism is not new to Tunisia, argues the author, it was only suppressed during the dictatorship. Moreover, the anti-terror-unit of Tunisian police has been suspended, as it was part of Ben Ali’s machinery of oppression.
4 Women and Gender Equality
Another topic which catches the interest of many journalists is the influence of women in Tunisia and the state of women’s rights. In these articles, the authors look closely at the current situation for women in Tunisia and ask whether gender equality is not only written into the new constitution, but also whether or not it exists in reality for Tunisian women. They also want to know to what extent women take part in the political process.
Therefore, German media regularly interview women’s rights activists and female politicians. In general, they offer space in their articles for female voices. Public broadcasting station “Deutschlandfunk” talks to diverse Tunisian women to explore the state of gender equality. Moreover, “Deutschlandfunk” stresses the importance of women for the success of Tunisian revolution and following path to democracy with the headline “Wächterinnen der Arabellion” (female guards of Arab rebellion).
Most of the times Tunisian women are interviewed in German media is in articles on “women’s topics”: gender equality and the role of women. An exception to this rule is an interview in “taz. Die Tageszeitung” with Tunisian physicist Faouzia Charfi. She is not only asked about feminist issues, but also talks about civil society and the disappointment among young people after the elections.