The Poster Child of the Arab Spring

[caption id="attachment_55232222" align="aligncenter" width="620" caption="A Tunisian police officer, wrapped in the country's flag, flashes a victory sign during a union-led protest calling for the protection of security personnel"][/caption]

Tunisia has accomplished much in the last year. Not only did the country initiate the Arab Spring with the ousting of its former President Ben Ali, it miraculously managed to do so in the most peaceful manner. Since then, Tunisians have participated in free and fair elections, and the National Assembly that is now in power is led by individuals who had previously spent years in prison or in exile. In other words, Tunisia has in many ways experienced an ideal transitional process. The country is on its way to becoming a participatory democracy with a robust civil society after years of repression.

Despite these important accomplishments, however, there is a dark side to Tunisia’s transitional process. While the country is comparatively more stable and secure than the other North African countries that have undergone revolutions, the security in the country has deteriorated and there is a wide-spread concern that the ruling parties intention to move forward will create a culture of impunity in the country.

In particular, there is a wide perception that a significant portion of the country’s security forces remain loyal to the former government. There have been numerous violent incidents by Islamists targeting individuals whose practices clash with their conservative values. Meanwhile, Ennahda, the head of the coalition government known as the Troika, is accused of ignoring or down-playing these injustices. In this context, Tunisians fear not only for their secular values but also for their safety.

Importantly, there are significant geographical discrepancies with regards to security in the country. In the central highlands and the south, for instance, the absence of the police has allowed for recurring instances of violence. The police meanwhile argue that they fear for their lives. The security apparatus, having played a significant role in the repression that took place under the former government, is no longer trusted in many parts of the country. During the revolution, police stations were regularly attacked. However, the country cannot continue operating without an effective security enforcement mechanism. Rebuilding the country’s trust of the police is at the heart of Tunisia’s future security prospects.

A recent report by the International Crisis Group has highlighted these concerns. In Tunisia: Combatting Impunity, Restoring Security the Think Tank outlines the link between prevailing insecurity and the deficiencies of transitional justice in the country. In particular, the International Crisis Group has argued that in order to avoid a destabilizing witch hunt, the government has slowed the pace of the transitional process. Though this is considered a success and part of the reason behind Tunisia’s peaceful transition, the slow nature of transitional justice has also left “unanswered powerful demands for justice and accountability. The families of those killed or injured... insist on moral and material compensation…They fear a reign of impunity under the guise of ineffectual national reconciliation.”

Tunisia must soon address the issues of impunity that have persisted in the aftermath of Ben Ali’s ouster. Only in restoring the country’s faith in the rule of law, and the enforcers of the law, namely the police, will Tunisia be able to guarantee it remains the poster child of the Arab Spring.