On Monday, Tunisia celebrates the second anniversary of its uprising against dictatorship. Through the sacrifices of generations of Tunisians, our country is now engaged in establishing a democratic society. It is a difficult and complex process, but it is inevitable.
Tunisians are for the first time the true protagonists of their history, and are engaged in an experience that will be a model for democracy in the region. Its success will require creative solutions to the many challenges facing us: managing the explosion of social and political demands after decades of repression; establishing a rule of law that guarantees equality, and individual liberties in the face of resistance from the previous regime; building a national consensus without neutralising politics; and constructing a development model that ensures prosperity for all the country’s regions. I am confident Tunisians can bravely face these challenges just as they stood collectively against dictatorship.
The governing coalition of secularist and Islamist parties is now in its second year. Despite their differences, these parties have clearly demonstrated the possibility of reconciliation, co-operation and partnership between moderate Islamists and moderate secularists, an important model for the Arab world.
Opposition to dictatorship had already built bridges between these parties before 14 January 2011. The alliance of 18 October 2005, in which a range of opposition parties agreed a common political and philosophical vision and on principles of democracy, pluralism and equal citizenship, provided a shared framework.
Our parties came together because we believe that in this transitional period we must work to build a Tunisia for all. In writing the constitution, all the elected representatives of the people and civil society have been involved, and it is now subject to broad consultation through a vast programme of local, regional and national public meetings.
This is the Tunisia we want to build – where all are engaged in constructing the foundations of democracy. This partnership is the only way to ensure sustainable progress and a stable democracy, united around the realisation of national goals and the clear aspirations of the revolution.
The revolution has allowed Tunisians to freely articulate their demands for the first time. And it has laid bare many realities previously concealed. The old regime’s economic figures indicated good growth but hid high graduate unemployment, vast regional disparities and corruption. Entire regions have been systematically excluded and denied investment, where unemployment rates are double the national average.
The government is seeking to remedy this through targeted development projects. However, only around half of these projects have been realised, due to the weakness of our infrastructure. Similarly, the high graduate unemployment requires structural reform, since the problem results from a mismatch between the educational system and the job market. The government has managed some remarkable achievements – including a 3.25% growth rate and reduction in unemployment – but the solutions to many pressing demands can only be found in long-term structural change.
The revolution has not only changed Tunisia, but sparked a movement across the Arab region and beyond. It spoke to the aspirations of ordinary people and awoke a political conscience that had long been muzzled and brutalised. It was not only the proximity of Arab countries, and their linguistic and cultural commonalities, that made this possible, but also a shared feeling of political sclerosis that had paralysed progress for decades. Since the 19th century, Arab reformers and thinkers have written about social and political reform and dreamed of transforming their nations. The Arab spring is the answer to this long-standing crisis.
The Tunisian revolution is a political earthquake that has changed the face of the region. It opens a new page in our relations with the world. The Arab spring is, indeed, an end to the old doctrine of “Arab exceptionalism” and support for authoritarian regimes. It has become clear that only the construction of true democracy in the Arab world, with the participation of all key moderate voices, will ensure lasting stability. We are only at the start of a long and difficult process, but one that will bring more prosperity and stability to the region and the world.
Rachid Ghannouchi is leader of the Ennahda party in Tunisia.