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Photo: Amine Landoulsi / AP – Photoshopped by Nawaat

Following the first democratic elections in Tunisia in October 2011, the Islamist party Ennahdha (Renaissance in Arabic) obtained 37% of the vote and, with the support of two parties claiming secular left – the Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol – Ennahdha formed a majority within the constituent assembly leading to a coalition government in order to set up the foundations for a democratic civil state.

One year after its accession to power in December 2011, the coalition, dominated by the Islamist party, has transformed the country, and is currently being contested and defied by a large portion of the population.

The Islamist party Ennahdha, having gradually monopolized the structures of power, proved to be unfit to satisfy the demands of freedom and justice claimed during the uprising of January 2011. Moreover, the Islamist party was unable to fulfill its election campaign promises. Worse, its actions are far from breaking with the practices of the fallen dictatorship of Ben Ali, and show that the authoritarian tendencies of this party, combined with the lack of skills and responsibility are amplified to the point of driving the country into a generalized latent crisis, and instigating an accelerated decay of the Tunisian state after decades of building professional republican institutions.

Regarding the social aspects, Ennahdha, having made the Arab and Muslim identity and the primacy of religion as its ideological foundation, has quickly provoked a rupture in the population: the citizens who adhere to its ideology are considered good Muslims; those who do not, are compartmentalized and tagged as non-believers and remainders of the West, thereby legitimizing violence against them and causing severe social tension. The old fear of the dictatorship evolved into fear of the society, part of which, encouraged or forced by Islamists, became intolerant towards any differences, to the point that aggressions against the “unbelievers” multiplied, unfortunately, without consequences.

The dream of a peaceful society, pluralistic and tolerant, where citizens with equal rights and obligations would live side by side in harmony, has faded.

Beside that, poverty has worsened, causing excessive rural migration and, hence, demographic pressure in urban centers. This situation has led to uncontrollable acts of illegal occupation of dwellings and public spaces. Further, it has caused rise of crime rates in some cities. To make matters worse, illegal migration to Europe in rickety boats has restarted, notwithstanding the harm and even the death this act of desperation causes, while the authorities remain silent.

The economic indicators show an economy in a dilapidated state, regardless of the efforts made by the government to conceal the reality. Economic decline, accelerated since the accession to power of Islamists, affects all sectors to a scale, that the rise of underground economy threatens the ability of the state to guarantee its financial commitments. Consequently, the country suffers the collapse of its sovereign credit rating and the rating of its banking system.

The latter gradually leading to the exclusion of Tunisia’s ranking from the Global Competitiveness Index for lack of clarity of data. That situation adversely affects the business climate and investment, and might push the country into a prolonged period of instability.

Finally, on the political level, the coalition dominated by the Islamists has failed in its fundamental role of protecting citizens and institutions, and of ensuring basic public services. Garbage is collected only sporadically turning some cities into open landfill site, and hence reviving the fear of epidemics.

Several cities and urban centers have now to deal with both water and power shortages which were previously unknown. Furthermore, the eruption of violence against academics, artists, intellectuals, foreign diplomatic compounds and other citizens, coupled with the harassment of journalists and restrictions on freedom of speech, opens a dangerous chapter in relations between the state and its citizens. Often that violence is committed by extremist groups, acting freely as militia and with the apparent complicity of governmental authorities that do not hesitate to exploit the justice system to punish those who have yet to obey.

Corruption is widespread and infiltrates all sectors and levels, in particular public administration positions. Even welfare is conditional upon the allegiance and loyalty to the Islamist party. This corruption also affects some of the country’s assets which are either looted or sold off by the government in total absence of transparency.

A large segment of the population is increasingly questioning the legitimacy of the governing authorities, particularly because of the intentional refusal of the latter to set a precise date for elections and a clear roadmap for the democratic transition. Those people further demand the departure of the coalition at the end of its one-year term, namely October 22nd, 2012 which has not been done leading to more instability, violence and lack of trust.

As mentioned above, given the social, economic and political trends, which undermine the unity and sustainability of the state, the beginnings of the decline of the Tunisian state are a fact. That situation is extensively described in recent alarming reports of international organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

If the decline of the state continues, Tunisia will soon fulfill all characteristics of a failed state and will become a breeding ground for extremism, terrorism and organized crime. Further, it will facilitate the proliferation of violent groups that will threaten the security and stability of the entire western Mediterranean region.

Ali Guidara