Tunisians turn away from the established politicians


Tunis Imed Zdiri wishes the dictatorship back. "I preferred the time when Ben Ali governed Tunisia," says the 56-year-old hotel employee in Tunis. "Under him, we could not talk freely, that's true. But now everyone is constantly criticizing each other, "he says. "Life has not gotten better, just much more expensive, and the politicians are sitting in their chairs and doing nothing."

With his anger Zdiri is not alone. Eight years after the peaceful revolution, many Tunisians are disillusioned. The economy is worse off than in the days of dictator Ben Ali, the parliament is divided and does not agree on the necessary reforms.

The fate of Tunisia is of enormous importance for the rest of the world: in the countryside lie the hopes of the West that liberal systems are also possible in the Arab world. Tunisia was the only country to succeed peacefully after the Arab Spring. But now there is a reorganization of the political landscape.

In the presidential election on Sunday, the Tunisians vented their anger: In the run-off election are now two men from outside the political establishment. The incumbent Prime Minister and other Tunisian politicians, on the other hand, lost out.

The new president will be either Kaïs Saïed, a non-party lawyer with ultra-conservative positions, who received 18.6 percent of the vote; or Nabil Karoui, a media entrepreneur who has been in jail since August 23 for tax evasion and money laundering, with 15.6 percent.

Difficult majority finding

Karoui promises to fight poverty in the country. His TV channel reports on his charity, which distributes food and medicines in the poor South. What Karoui also wants to achieve politically is unclear. Supporters regard his arrest as politically motivated, as the allegations against him date back to 2016.

At that time, "I watch" had raised her, the Tunisian version of the anti-corruption organization Transparency International. Karoui denies the allegations, and as long as he is not legally convicted, he may run for office.

Jurassic Professor Kaïs Saïed has not used any financial support for his campaign to present himself as a thoroughly honest candidate. He wants to radically decentralize politics in order to respond better to regional needs. The 61-year-old rejects equal treatment of men and women in inheritance law as well as the abolition of the penalty on homosexuality and the abolition of the death penalty. Because of his emotionless rhetoric he is nicknamed "Robocop". Although he represents Islamist-conservative positions, Saïed emphasizes that he is not an Islamist.

The election, in which only 45 percent of Tunisians participated, had been brought forward after the 92-year-old incumbent Beji Caid Essebsi had died at the end of July. It was planned only after the parliamentary elections, which take place on 5 October, and thus probably before the second ballot of the presidential election.

In the parliamentary election, the Islamist party Ennahda has good chances to win. It is the only party well structured and represented throughout the country. So far, she ruled together with the secular association Nidaa Tounes. But Nidaa Tounes has split. The majority finding after the election could be difficult. A program, behind which a clear majority of Tunisians want to assemble, is not abolished.

Liberal women's rights in the world

"Politics does not discuss the fundamental problems, as it is dominated by personal egos and a war for power," says Bochra Belhaj Hmida. The lawyer was first a member of the Executive Committee of Nidaa Tounes and then non-party MPs. The 64-year-old headed the Commission for Individual Rights and Freedoms (Colibe), which was created in 2017 on the initiative of President Essebsi.

The aim was to abolish one of the last major discrimination against women and to equate it to men in inheritance law. Currently, in Tunisia, according to Islamic law, women inherit half of what men deserve.

In the final report, the feminist recommended in 2018 not only to equalize the law of succession, but also to abolish the criminal liability of homosexuality and the death penalty as well. But it was the intrusion into inheritance law that went too far for many Muslims. "We touched everything with it: the money, the patriarchy and from the perspective of the critics also the religion," says Hmida.

She has received death threats for her report and now needs a bodyguard discreetly seated at a table in front of the cafe. Even women turned against the report: they did not want politicians to face the law of God, Hmida explains.

The strong reactions show how difficult the opening of Islamic countries is for liberal systems. Tunisia has the most liberal women's rights in the Arab world. As early as 1956, state founder Habib Bourguiba abolished polygamy and legalized divorce. Since then, many freedoms have been added. In the Tunisian parliament, 34 percent of the deputies are female – more than in Germany.

Daily work on democracy

But the country is divided into adherents of the Mediterranean way of life and those who live a strict faith or at least do not want to touch the role of religion. Nevertheless, Ouided Bouchamaoui is convinced: "The law on inheritance law will come," says the former head of the Tunisian employers' association UTICA. "Only before the elections, Parliament did not want to discuss it."

The 58-year-old manager, like Belhaj Hmida, has been deeply committed to freedom in her country: she was a member of the "Dialogue Quartet", which was formed in 2013, when the country was close to civil war following two political killings and its mediation In 2015 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. "As members of civil society, we have shown that dialogue can solve any problem," says Bouchamaoui.

But the daily work on democracy is difficult. The power games of her colleagues, the corruption in politics and the tenacious struggle for reform have frustrated Belhaj Hmida. In the parliamentary elections, she is no longer running. "You have to be careful not to get bitter," she says.

The political blockade prevents reforms that would be important for the sluggish economy. "No country can make the transformation to democracy if people do not realize that they are also economically better," says Hervé de Baillenx of Democracy Reporting International in Tunis. High youth unemployment in 2013 was one of the drivers of the revolution. Now it is 34 percent – and thus over the 29 percent in the final year of the dictator Ben Ali. Inflation is seven percent and increases for middle class.

The blame is on the crisis in Libya and the slump in tourism following the 2015 terrorist attacks. Added to this are home-made problems: to create jobs as quickly as possible, the Tunisian government increased the number of civil servants by 40 percent in the four years after the revolution and repeated it several times their salaries up. Civil servants now account for 15 percent of gross domestic product, which is one of the highest proportions in the world.

The International Monetary Fund also criticizes the abundant energy subsidies, which benefit the wealthy more than the needy. However, government announcements to raise energy prices prompted angry street protests, fueled by the powerful UGTT union. At least: In the meantime, more tourists are coming to the country again.

Tunisia has proved surprisingly stable in the face of these problems. "Democracies are not forming overnight, and Tunisian is about to consolidate," says Hatem M'rad, a political scientist at the University of Tunis. "Today we have a real democracy with a free press and freedom of expression," says Nobel Peace Prize winner Bouchamaoui. "We are still learning. But we are on the right track. "

MoreThe prosperity of the American Dream has contradictory consequences: it suppresses existential fears. And in their place are real as well as conceited worries. How Americans turn their backs on democracy.

. (tagsToTranslate) Tunisia (t) Arab Spring (t) Democracy (t) Runoff (t) North Africa (t) Election (t) Social Policy (t) Domestic Policy (t) Politician (t) Government (t) Human Rights (t) Economic Policy (t) Ennahda (t) Transparency International (t) Beji Caid Essebsi


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