Tunisian democracy “still on life support”

Tunisia’s fledgling democracy stands at a crossroads, warns Scottish MEP Alyn Smith, and Europe must not turn its back on the Arab’s Spring’s success story.

Three years after the overthrow of the dictatorship, Tunisia now stands as the only Arab Spring country to have achieved a peaceful democratic transition from the 2011 uprising. But extremely high youth unemployment levels, record food prices and dwindling tourism risk jeopardising the transition.

Following his recent visit to the country, Alyn Smith, Member of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee said: 

“We can’t just fling money at Tunisia and expect democracy to happen. If we genuinely stand for human rights and democracy, we need to secure an ambitious partnership to secure the country’s democratic future.

“At a time when Europe’s southern neighbours are experiencing anti-democracy backlashes and wars, Tunisia’s oasis of relative calm must not be taken for granted.

“Tunisian experts have commended the role the EU has played so far, but I believe we can do more. After meeting Al Bawsala, the country’s leading transparency NGO, I was reminded how vital institutional reform is after decades of harsh dictatorship and one-party rule.

“Ordinary Tunisians find it hard to cope with the skyrocketing cost of living. A young taxi driver complained the price of food has doubled over the course of three years. One kilo of lamb has jumped in price from 13 dinars to 25.

“Shining abstracts like ‘democracy’ come a poor second when you’re struggling to put food on the table, and the Tunisian government needs to tackle these issues as a priority. It’s not going to be easy but the European Union has a responsibility to help to support this transition.

“Tunisia has two great challenges right now one: political reform to protect human rights in a country recovering from dictatorship, and two: delivering ambitious economic reforms to reduce unemployment and the vast income inequality. If we don’t assist Tunisia now, the Arab Spring might as well have never happened.”