Relighting a beacon of democracy重燃民主之灯
The way out of Tunisia’s crisis 如何化解突尼斯危机
A new national dialogue is needed to repair a broken system 需开启新的全国对话，修复破损体系。
Jul 28th 2021 |
THERE IS BUT one success story to come out of the Arab spring. Among the countries that toppled dictators a decade ago, only Tunisia emerged as a full democracy. Its free and fair elections, featuring Islamists and secularists, free-marketeers and communists, stand out in a region littered with despots. Liberals consider it a beacon of hope: if democracy could flourish in Tunisia, why not in the rest of the Arab world?
Tunisians don’t see their country as much of a model. Ten governments in ten years have failed to curb graft, improve services or create jobs. The most recent one, led by Hichem Mechichi, struggled to deal with one of Africa’s worst outbreaks of covid-19. On July 25th tens of thousands of Tunisians, braving the heat and defying a lockdown, protested against his inept administration. That night President Kais Saied suspended parliament and seized power.
What a shame that it has come to this. Mr Saied was elected two years ago as a rebuke to the political class. He is popular, in large part because he has no political experience. Many Tunisians celebrated his power grab, hoping that he would clean things up. Yet democracy is a fragile thing and Mr Saied is treating it roughly. His claim to be acting in line with the law rings hollow. Large parts of parliament have rejected his actions, some calling them a “coup”. Already facing economic and health crises, Tunisia now faces a constitutional one as well.
This is not the first time its nascent democracy has been pushed to the brink. Secular and Islamist forces faced off in 2013-14 after two political assassinations. Tunisia’s leaders, urged on by labour unions and civil-society groups, eventually hashed out compromises that saved the system. Since then, though, unemployment has remained high and corruption rife. As in other countries, the coronavirus has added a new layer of instability. Many Tunisians are nostalgic for the period before the revolution, when there was at least the perception of order under Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the last dictator.
这也不是第一次，突尼斯的新生民主制度被逼到存亡边缘。2013-14年间，发生了两次政治暗杀事件后，世俗势力与伊斯兰势力陷入对峙。突尼斯领导人，在工会和民间社会团体的敦促下，最终达成妥协，挽救了民主体系。然而自那以后，失业率居高不下，腐败蔓生。如在其他国家一样，新冠病毒又增加了新的不稳定性。很多突尼斯人开始怀念革命前的岁月，那时在最后一个独裁者扎因•阿比丁•本•阿里（Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali）治下，至少还有一种秩序感。
However, Ben Ali also left Tunisians angry and despondent (even as he tortured dissidents and plundered the state). A replacement strongman is not the answer to Tunisia’s problems. Does Mr Saied hope to become one? The former law professor strikes many as incorruptible, but also unyielding. Under the constitution, he can suspend parliament for a maximum of 30 days, yet he says he may wait “until the situation settles down”. He has barred public gatherings of more than three people. The police in Tunis have raided Al Jazeera, a media outlet seen as sympathetic to the Islamists of Ennahda, the biggest party in parliament. None of this bodes well for Tunisian democracy.
Mr Saied makes no secret of wanting radical reform of the political system. To begin with, he would like the president to have more power and to get rid of parties and some elections. Such is the dismal state of Tunisia that no idea should be dismissed. But even if he has the solutions to the country’s political problems, Mr Saied will struggle to implement them alone. Supporters of Ennahda, which styles itself “Muslim democratic”, will not roll over. Nor will the other parties pushed aside by the president, who is an independent.
Many Tunisians blame Ennahda for their country’s ills. But Rachid Ghannouchi, its leader and the Speaker of parliament, helped Tunisia through the crisis in 2013-14 by joining a national dialogue and working with Beji Caid Essebsi, a rival at the time. To his credit, Mr Ghannouchi is again being pragmatic. Ennahda has called on its supporters to leave the streets and suggested a new national dialogue. Mr Saied should take up its offer.
很多突尼斯人把国家弊病都归咎于伊斯兰复兴运动党。然而正是复兴党主席及议会发言人拉希德·加努希（Rachid Ghannouchi），通过参与全国对话，并与当时的对手贝吉·凯德·埃塞卜西（Beji Caid Essebsi）合作，帮助突尼斯化解了2013-14年的危机。值得称赞的是，加努希再次表现得非常务实。复兴运动党已呼吁其支持者离开街头，建议开启新的全国对话。赛义德应采纳其建议。
Western democracies ought to lend their support. Over the past decade countries such as America and France, Tunisia’s former colonial master, have done relatively little to keep the only true Arab democracy on track. More aid would certainly help. In a sense, the West must outbid Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have opposed the Arab spring. Yet in response to Mr Saied’s actions, America has merely expressed concern.
Ultimately, though, the responsibility for fixing Tunisia falls on its leaders. Painful reforms are needed to bring down big deficits and attract investment. Politicians have squandered a decade by taking, at best, half-measures. Tunisians are right to be angry, but they should not give up on democracy. Rather, when their leaders fail, they should vote them out. ■