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Middle East and Africa

The Ups and Downs of the Tunisian Exception

Two hands pointing at Tunisia on a map [Prostock-studio / Shutterstock]

In addition to having inaugurated the revolutionary wave of 2010-2011, Tunisia constitutes the only successful case of institutional transition in the Arab-Spring context. Today, however, the country finds itself in a social and economic emergency to which the new political class seems unable to respond

This article was published in Oasis 31. Read the table of contents

Last update: 2021-12-09 14:41:08


In addition to initiating the season of revolutionary unrest in 2010–2011, Tunisia is the only case of successful transition resulting from the Arab Spring. This fact is due to a series of characteristics that other states in the region do not possess. Nevertheless, despite having made undeniable progress, today the country finds itself in a phase of economic and social emergency to which the political classes, old and new, seem incapable of responding.      


In 2011 Tunisia began a new type of revolution, without any ideology, leader or za‘īm. Instead, its leading actor was a collective hero who communicated on the social networks, regained possession of the symbols of nationalism (such as the flag and the national anthem), went out onto the streets, transformed the citizens’ anger into determination and managed to topple a regime that had been in power for 23 years. It seemed to be the start of a new era for Tunisia and the Arab world.   


The phenomenon, which prompted a wave of revolts in the region, came very much as a surprise, having occurred in a small country that had been under an authoritarian government since its independence in 1956. Unlike Morocco or Egypt, which in spite of everything had made some reforms to partially open their political systems, by minimally integrating the Islamists or granting the press a certain freedom of tone, Tunisia’s rulers had always shrunk from relaxing the system in any way. Habib Bourguiba and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali shared this authoritarian practice of power: indeed, they associated democracy with disorder and above all with the Islamists seizing power, which they both fought with all their might.


The Tunisian demonstrators of 2011 had had enough of this type of government and ousted Ben Ali. The image of the united people freeing itself from its “dictator” will remain impressed in the memory and, whatever great difficulties there may have been in the post-revolutionary period, Tunisia continues to embody the hope of what has been called the “Arab Spring.”

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