Tunisia: 'spring' fades amid Essebsi's realpolitik

Elderly statesman called on to erase Ben Ali's memory

13 January, 17:15

    (ANSAmed) - JANUARY 13 - Four years ago, when tear gas was still heavy in the air, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali left a Tunisia rocked by protests calling for his ouster. He fled with his wife, the much-loathed Leila, and the youngest of his sons to prevent a settling of scores that - as the recent history of other uprisings in the Arab world shows - could have led to major bloodshed. Four years have gone by and Tunisia, in order to leave a severe crisis (economic and of values) behind, has opted to move on after the euphoria of the first few months following the end of the Ben Ali era. The period undeniably showed the fragility of a democracy that came on the wave of popular rage hidden for too long, fostered by the anger of seeing a country that could take care of itself instead devoured by a rapacious clique of the dictator's family and his partners, who took over everything that produced wealth and ignored both laws and respect for others. Ben Ali's inglorious end restored democracy to Tunisia while setting the country on a path traveled by other nations that - finding themselves from one moment to the next free of a dictatorship - thought that this gave the new leaders a license to take any decision they saw fit. After elections for its Constituent Assembly and power invested in a coalition under the Islamist Ennahdha party, Tunisia dreamed it would get effective governance immediately. Time has shown this to be a mistake: one that made many wistful for Ben Ali's type of governance, in which corruption ran rife but in which the country at least moved forward.

    Strolling down the streets of Tunis or the more intellectual Sousse or cosmopolitan Mahdia, it was not long ago that one could meet those who spoke of Ben Ali's time with nostalgia. The years under Ennahdha split the country in two, much more than the recent vote showed, sharpening differences between those who considered Islam a cure-all and those calling for a secular state to prevent inequality. The country, suffering emotionally from violent incidents making the headlines, has decided to move backwards and voted for an elderly statesman, Beji Caid Essebsi, who has never hid - nor would he want to - his past under the Bourghiba and Ben Ali regimes. The pragmatic politician will now have to make his fellow citizens understand that the Tunisian 'spring' - though it did bring democracy, or at least something akin to it - can no longer condition the life of the country, where Islam must have an important role but must not cramp the freedom of a single Tunisian. This is a concept that is often forgotten by those who, in the name of or on behalf of religion, believed that those not sharing this idea were enemies to be fought. (ANSAmed).

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