A Revolution on the Road to Democracy

Unemployment and corruption are still the biggest hurdles on the way to democracy in Tunisia. Fathi Ayadi of the Tunisian Ennahda party says what is now needed is a culture of political consensus

By Fathi Ayadi

Anyone who looks at post-revolutionary Tunisia will be able to spot very different political trends. But one thing is clear: the revolution has turned the former structures upside down, and opened new paths for Tunisia's political culture. Following such a massive earthquake, which has shaken everything, the priority must now be to reassert stability.

It's not yet clear what the new Tunisia will turn out to be, and the revolution is still struggling with the counter-revolution. Those who oppose the revolution now exploit legitimate demonstrations and protests in order to sow confusion, promote social frustration and create chaos - in other words, to spread the feeling that the country's stability is at risk.

Of course, revolutions have their own dynamic, and some of the things which have happened elsewhere in the past will also happen in Tunisia. Can the revolution reach its aim of destroying the system of tyranny and corruption and replace it with one which is just and respects the dignity of every Tunisian? That is the fundamental challenge at this time.

Candidates for the first elections to the Constituent Assembly (photo: dpa)
Democratic transition as a long-term educational process: "Democracy has to become our political culture – it must be a mechanism of political competition, as well as an instrument with which to institute a change of power," says Ayadi

​​A successful "democracy project"

The country's political elite has so far succeeded in moving the revolution in the direction of democratic change. Free and fair elections have been held and legitimate institutions have been formed as a result.

Work is underway on a new constitution which will fulfill the yearning of the Tunisian people for liberty, justice and dignity and will assure them that democratic change has taken root. But, if the "democracy project" is to be a success, three fundamental conditions have to be met.

First: democracy must not be just an abstract solution. It has to become our political culture and an essential element in the parties - it must be the mechanism of political competition, as well as the instrument with which to bring about a change of power. Currently, though, we also need a culture of consensus. We have to agree on a kind of political contract which will make the national project of democratic change irreversible. Some of the political parties in Tunisia are still looking for their road to democracy and have not yet put the mentality of resistance against tyranny behind them. Such parties see themselves in the democratic opposition rather than in government.

Youths in a suburb of Tunis (photo: dpa)
Have development betrayed the children of the Jasmine Revolution? – "Post-revolutionary Tunisia has inherited the problem of widespread poverty and high unemployment. The consequences are that social frustration is on the increase and hasty demands are being made at the expense of social solidarity," says Ayadi


Overcome poverty and unemployment

Second: we have to face the challenges with which those who oppose revolution confront us. To achieve that, a reform of the administration and a targeted fight against corruption are essential. And national unity can only be upheld through dialogue. The scale against which all decisions must be measured is whether they help the success of the revolution rather than any individual ideology.

Third: the revolutionaries had the aim of promoting the country's development in a just way, and of creating jobs. This applies particularly to the parts of the country which have been neglected. Post-revolutionary Tunisia has inherited the problem of widespread poverty and high unemployment. The consequences are that social frustration is on the increase and hasty demands are being made at the expense of social solidarity. Currently, though, solidarity means dealing with social needs in the right order: first fighting unemployment, then increasing wages.

Dealing with the legacy of the past can't be accomplished as quickly as some would like: time is part of the solution.

© ZEIT ONLINE/Qantara.de 2012

Fathi Ayadi sits in the Tunisian Constitutional Assembly as a representative of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party. Previously, he lived for many years in Germany. He's a mathematician who studied at the University of Regensburg and worked as a software developer. This essay is part of a series on the new actors in the transition states of the Arab world, published by the Zeit newspaper in cooperation with the Körber Foundation.

Translated from the German by Michael Lawton

Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de