Ousting a ruler easier than reforming, Tunisians learn

Corruption, high unemployment are barriers to a true democracy

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Tunisia’s unemployment rate is officially 14 percent, but the percentage of college graduates without work is about double that, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Strikes in numerous sectors are plaguing the country.

Still, much has changed. People talk freely and are not scared anymore. The “president’s men” were arrested. The former first lady’s “Trabelsi” clan that fleeced the country is on the run or in jail. The first convictions in corruption cases have been handed out.

During a visit on March 17 in Tunis, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton insisted on the importance of transforming the revolution into concrete results.

“We know there is a list of steps that are more likely to increase the success of the reform efforts, and we hope to see that in the weeks and months ahead,” Mrs. Clinton said.

“The revolution created so many hopes, and now we have to translate those hopes into results, and that comes through economic and political reform.”

According to analysts, Tunisia is the Arab country most primed for democracy.

Tunisia is mature enough to move to democracy,” said Addi Lahouari, a sociology professor at the Institute of Political Studies in Lyon, France.

“It is a small country with an economy that is doing pretty well. It has a strong middle class with a significant level of education.

“It has not seen the massive migration from rural areas like Algeria and Morocco and especially critical, the army has no political weight. All these conditions gives Tunisia the best chance of any Arab country to become a full-fledged democracy.”

Tunisia will hold its first free elections since its independence from France in 1956 on July 24 - people will choose delegates to a constitutional assembly that is tasked with drafting the new constitution and laying the foundation for Tunisia’s new democracy.

No one knows yet what form that might take - a parliamentary model, a presidential one or a combination of both.

Tunisians “may move toward really interesting hybrid models that are not strictly based on Western democratic ones,” said Mr. Jentleson. “And these may accomplish objectives for their countries more effectively than just transplanting our models.

“Regardless of what comes, the whole sense of freedom and dignity [Tunisians] have gained make it difficult to put the genie back into the bottle - they won’t go back to what they had.”

No one in Tunisia seems to disagree with that.

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