Tunisia: Confronting Social and Economic Challenges

"Eighteen months after initiating the Arab spring, Tunisia still can boast of an ongoing, successful transition. The former regime, which came to symbolise corruption and social injustice, is gone and democratic gains are palpable. Yet, formidable social and economic challenges threaten to halt progress. Among these challenges are : rising unemployment – stark regional inequalities and corruption. Although the unity government led by the Islamist An-Nahda party is aware of these social and economic ills, it so far has been unable to address them rapidly enough and is failing to quell the impatience of workers and unemployed youth who expect to reap the fruits of their involvement in past struggles. To avoid destabilising social conflicts, the government needs to better respond 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 order to restore socio-economic stability, the state must address social concerns without stirring up new demands that will further undercut the ability of the business sector to function effectively. Although it has improved its rhetoric to some degree, the government’s at times threatening remarks towards demonstrators – more often than not unemployed youth from disadvantaged areas – has exacerbated the situation."