Tunisia is undergoing a period of severe political instability. Massive street demonstrations calling for the resignation of President Zine Ben Ali who has been a relatively benign dictator since 1987. The latest reports have Ben Ali fleeing the country with the Prime Minister he appointed having taken power. These demonstrations have been going on since December but the rest of the world has taken little notice (probably because Tunisia isn't a major oil exporter and the government doesn't take high profile anti-western or anti-American positions). You can see Tunisia's CIA World Fact Book profile here.
Friday, January 14, 2011
According to the Polity IV project which provides broad measures of the level of democratization in countries, Tunisia (higher scores mean more democracy, lower scores mean a more authoritarian regime) has seen a period of significant improvement in political freedoms in the first half of Ben Ali's rule but has recently been slipping backwards in a more authoritarian direction.
Tunisia's economic situation makes me cautiously optimistic about their medium future. They have a fairly diverse economy and a relatively high per capita GDP for a non oil exporting country. There are concerns though. Decades of rigged elections has left a party system that has been untested in a fully democratic environment. We don't really know if they are up to it. In many new democracies, party systems become badly destabilized and in the worst cases, this can make people disillusioned with democracy and/or provoke a coup d'etat. But if the parties can manage to represent constituencies and compete with each other without resorting to violence, things could get very interesting in a good way.
Tunisia is a cross roads here. It is entirely possible that they could emerge from this with something resembling a stable democracy. If that were to happen in a predominantly Islamic country in North Africa it would be a great development for the region!
Posted by Raised By Republicans at 8:47 AM