The Tunisian Project
ICG Report – June 2012
The report notes that despite being aware of these social and economic ills, the unity government—led by the Islamist Ennahda party—has so far been unable to address these issues quickly enough. It is therefore failing to subdue the impatience of workers and the unemployed, who naturally have expected to benefit from the recent tumultuous events.
As a result, the ICG suggests that in order to avoid destabilising social conflicts, the government needs to respond more effectively and efficiently to the “escalating violence caused by worsening economic conditions; get a handle on the large informal economic sector, including smuggling; overcome administrative bottlenecks that hamper socio-economic improvements; and foster democratisation at the regional and local level.”
In comparison to other Arab nations, Tunisia enjoys some semblance of normalcy. To some extent, the state and society have managed—at least on the surface—to continue to function. There is, however, the problem of deeper economic grievances bubbling beneath the surface. The report comments that these grievances could boil over, because “the economic and social causes that sparked the uprising a year and a half ago are far from resolved or even adequately addressed or discussed.” Furthermore, the behaviour of individuals is often obeys the maxim ‘every man for himself,’ due to the variety of people involved in the uprisings—secularists and Islamists, professionals and labour activists, and so on.
In addition, the ICG notes that Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali’s government has inherited a troublesome economic situation that will only lead to worsening social and economic unrest. They note that it “took over a state whose presence and reach in the country’s hinterlands is feeble and which has proved incapable of curbing corruption, the violent renegotiation of power at the local level, the burgeoning informal economic sector, or the proliferation of smuggling networks which fuel inflation.”
Evidently, the upcoming tasks are of grave importance. Thus the government will need to “maintain an increasingly fragile peace, keep a complicated political transition on track and regain the confidence of local communities, whose inhabitants measure progress primarily by material improvements.”
The ICG believes that in the absence of short-term progress, the feelings of unrest could manifest in various ways. For instance, clan-based violence has claimed more than a dozen lives, whilst the state has failed to restore its authority in several regions: “Corruption persists and provokes discontent and indignation.” This socio-economic insecurity and political instability are inextricably linked with the post-revolutionary context, which means these issues have the potential to cause a legitimacy crisis for the newly-elected government. The reports suggests that the government should “prioritise job creation for young graduates, regional development and active support for those who are part of the informal economy”.
In its concluding remarks, the report offers a list of ten recommendations to assist in alleviating these potentially threatening problems. It makes seven of these recommendations to the Tunisian government and the National Constituent Assembly; one to the International Trade Union Confederation and the International Labour Organisation; and two recommendations to the international community. Overall, the findings suggest a range of solutions to the problems noted above: fixing unemployment, regional inequalities, and corruption.
The findings and recommendations are specific enough to help fix these problems, but not too narrow so as to inhibit their implementation. There is also a degree of flexibility in the recommendations that make them useful irrespective of party or leadership. It is this aspect of the report that helps to produce quality findings and analysis for the Tunisian government and their situation, whilst not giving in to any partisan agendas. Tunisia, though a huge success in many respects, will need to consider these findings and their implications as soon as possible. It is, after all, economic dissatisfaction that led to the uprisings in the first place—not simply a desire for democracy, but rather the want of liberal democracy and a capitalist economy.
The report can be read in full here