Nine years after Bouazizi set himself on fire, there is a lot riding on Tunisia’s new government

Nine years ago, Tunisian street seller Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in the rural town of Sidi Bouzid, setting off the Arab uprisings.

This year, as Tunisians commemorate the events that ushered in a democratic transition, the country is embarking on the next phase of that transition with a newly elected government that is determined to finally deliver on the promises of the 2010-2011 revolution.

However, the patience of many Tunisians – particularly those who brought about the revolution – is waning and should this new government fail to bring about economic growth and social change in the marginalised interior and southern regions, the country could find itself in one of two equally troubling situations: massive unrest akin to the uprisings of 2011 or a return to authoritarianism. Thus it is crucial that the new government find a way to push forward with politically risky but necessary economic reforms that in the long term will bring about real improvement in the lives of Tunisians.

While the revolution brought tremendous political progress and created relatively effective democratic institutions as evidenced by the seamless handover of power following the death of President Beji Caid Essebsi in July, most of the original goals of the revolution have yet to be met. When Tunisians took to the streets in 2010 to demand change, it was economic and social change they were seeking first – with demands for political change coming later. But the various leaders who have governed Tunisia since 2011 have failed to deliver the positive economic and social progress the people are seeking, leaving many Tunisians frustrated.

In a recent Arab Barometer survey, 66 per cent of Tunisians said they believe the government does a “bad” or “very bad” job at limiting the economic and social disparity between the regions and only one-third of respondents believe the economic situation will improve in the next two to three years. Furthermore, trust in the government is abysmally low. Three-quarters of Tunisians say they do not trust the government or the council of ministers, 78 per cent say the same about the parliament and 84 per cent say they do not trust political parties….

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