Prospects for Democratic Change in Tunisia


On the 25 January 2011, the European Foundation for Democracy hosted a briefing with two Tunisian academics and political exiles as guest speakers, Chérif Ferjani and Hichem Abdessamad to discuss the prospects for democratic change in Tunisia; challenges and opportunities.

North Africa specialists and diplomats from the EU institutions and a number of Member State governments were also present to discuss the recent popular, democratic uprising within Tunisia.

Chérif Ferjani identified the lack of job prospects amongst Tunisian youth as a major causal factor in the ousting of former President Ben Ali, with the rallying of so many young people towards a common democratic goal being cited as a new element in the country's politics. Mr. Abdessamad added that although many youths from middle class backgrounds originally benefitted under Ben Ali, it did not take long before his economic mismanagement began undermining his support from this group.

Mr. Ferjani underlined that the corruption choking Tunisian business was a primary source of dissatisfaction with Ben Ali government. Reigning over a quasi "mafia state," Ben Ali refused to tolerate economic activity outside of his control, stifling individual entrepreneurship and deterring foreign investment in the country. The two academics noted that this corruption also included the political sphere, with Tunisian political leaders constantly threatening to implicate opponents in criminal acts if they dared to criticise Ben Ali's government.
Finally, Mr. Ferjani highlighted the importance of creating the democratic infrastructure crucial for holding free and fair elections in Tunisia, warning that holding elections before the country had created a fair electoral system that was anchored in the Constitution would only lead to renewed unrest. Continuing, he spoke out against some of the current efforts to purge the entire political establishment, noting that not all politicians had been implicated in the prior regime. Above all, both academics warned that the new movement must be wary of practicing the undemocratic policies that they had worked so courageously to replace.
The speakers had three requests of the EU political establishment.

The EU must:

  • revise its short-term perception and vision of Tunisia and not support corrupt regimes in north Africa;
  • provide financial support to Tunisia in 2011 especially to the tourism sector which is vital for Tunisia's stability and economy;
  • follow the French government's activity and freeze the financial assets of the Ben Ali family in European banks, returning the money to the Tunisian people.

For further information please contact Roberta Bonazzi at European Foundation for Democracy: info(at)europeandemocracy.org