Page 27 - FSJ_May12

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M A Y 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L
27
F
OCUS ON THE
A
RAB
S
PR ING
T
UNISIA
S
I
DENTITY
C
RISIS
lthough Tunisia was
the first Arab Spring country to overthrow its longtime
dictator, its revolution was overshadowed by the upris-
ing in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the conflict in Libya and
the crackdown in Syria. By comparison, the Tunisian
Revolution, while dramatic, has led to relative stability.
Former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali
left the country quickly and of his own accord on Jan.
14, 2011. The Oct. 23 constituent assembly elections
proceeded smoothly and were heralded as a model for
other transitional democracies. Despite an increasingly
polarized debate between Islamist and secular ele-
ments, Tunisia’s transition thus far has been smooth.
The Islamist Ennahda (“Renaissance”) Party won an
impressive 40 percent of the seats in the October vot-
ing, ushering in a profound and positive change for
those who had not felt free to practice their religion
under the Ben Ali government. But many secular
Tunisians continue to view Ennahda with suspicion,
fearing that the party has a hidden Islamist agenda. The
emergence of a small, but vocal, Salafist movement has
further inflamed fears that increasing religiosity poses a
threat to life as they know it.
Tunisians are questioning what it means to be
Tunisian, even as they attempt to reconcile the role of
religion in what had been a staunchly secular society.
And as this debate continues, they are increasingly dis-
appointed and frustrated with the lack of progress on
key economic and social issues. The economy remains
weak, with growing inflation and an unemployment rate
that is higher than before the revolution. Foreign and
domestic investment are both at a standstill, as investors
wait for signs that the economy is improving.
To succeed, democracy will need to deliver tangible
results, not just talk. The United States has an impor-
tant role to play in assisting the Tunisian government to
address these challenges.
A New, but Divided, Society
Those who spent time in Ben Ali’s Tunisia will
scarcely recognize the country of today. Known for its
T
UNISIANS ARE ATTEMPTING TO RECONCILE
THE ROLE OF RELIGION IN WHAT HAD BEEN
A STAUNCHLY SECULAR SOCIETY
.
B
Y
V
ICTORIA
T
AYLOR
Victoria Taylor, a Foreign Service officer since 2003, is cur-
rently an international affairs fellow in residence at the
Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C. She
has previously served in Tunis, Lahore and Islamabad, and
on the Iran and Turkey desks in the department. The views
expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not
necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State or
the U.S. government.