alexa The Tunisian Uprising and the Precarious Path to Democracy
Social & Political Sciences

Social & Political Sciences

Journal of Mass Communication & Journalism

Author(s): Emma C Murphy

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he popular uprising in Tunisia, which took place at the start of the year and which one can cautiously hope will lead to the first genuine democratic state in North Africa, took everyone by surprise, not least the Tunisians themselves. Just two years ago, in November 2009, the then president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, had been re-elected (for a fifth term) by an overwhelming (albeit entirely fraudulent) 89.4 per cent of the turnout. His party, the Rassemblement constiutionnel democratique (RCD), held an unchallenged position within the National Assembly, and boasted of two million members in a country with a population of just over ten million. The legal opposition was composed of a limited number of small, personalized, largely localized and to all intents and purposes co-opted political parties, and any effective opponents had been either brutally eradicated or forced into exile. The regime espoused a discourse which valorized stability above all else, and which could count on significant international, particularly European and American, support. Ben Ali appeared to be a key regional ally in the battles both to defeat Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militancy and to promote liberalizing economic reforms. With a large and terrifyingly brutal internal security force at his disposal, and with his own family and that of his wife exerting an ever-growing influence over the economic resources of the country, the president seemed untouchable. Indeed, such was his personal control over the political and economic life of the country, that any discussions of succession (bearing in mind that he was 74 years old and there had been periodic reports of his ill-health), focused on contenders from within his own family rather than other public or party officials. Tunisians ironically referred to his own and his wife's Ben Ali and Trabelsi clans as the royal family, and wearily noted his efforts to parachute them into official posts on the RCD Central Committee in preparation for the day when he was no longer willing, or able, to stand for election himself. Ben Ali had become Tunisia's latest Bey, under whose absolutist rule the brief window of hope, opened by his own promises of democracy when he seized power in 1987, had seemed to be not only shut but firmly locked.

This article was published in Mediterranean Politics and referenced in Journal of Mass Communication & Journalism

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