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Image: Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images

Tunisia three years later

Ute Schaeffer / db
January 13, 2014

Three years after the overthrow of President Ben Ali, Tunisians are still waiting for their new constitution. There have been quite a few empty promises since 2011, but there is also some progress.

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"It was a central aim of the revolution not to let just a few benefit," Souail Aidoudi says. "But that aim has not been honored."

Aidoudi, a 32-year-old unemployed academic, accuses Tunisia's post-revolution politicians of incompetence. "There are too many people in Tunisia who are pushed aside, who have no access to work, who don't participate in society and live in great uncertainty," he says. He once was a student of management sciences, but he's been unemployed for ten years, and now, he makes a living taking on odd jobs as waiter, porter and kitchen help: "I can't afford to have a family."

Democracy is a prize

Many young Tunisians share Aidoudi's fate. They may have university degrees, but they can't find a job. About 700,000 of the 11 million Tunisians are unemployed, 400,000 of them are graduates - a time bomb waiting to explode, says Salem Ayari, head of an NGO for jobless academics: "There were plans for employment programs, but they weren't implemented."

Aidoudi
Souail Aidoudi is disappointed in the progress made so farImage: DW/Ute Schaeffer

Tunisians aren't just waiting for jobs. They are waiting for a new constitution, which was promised for the third anniversary of the Ben Ali's ouster on January 14. Tarek Sanaa is dismissive, like most of his fellow countrymen, he doesn't believe in such promises. "The current elite following the revolution regards democracy as their loot," the 60-year-old silversmith says. "They use it like a tool to guard their own interests and to enrich themselves."

Sanaa took over a shop on Avenue de Bourguiba from his father. He regards himself as a chronicler of the revolution that started right at his doorstep three years ago. It's important that the young people see perspectives for the future, and stay in the country, he says. "I've got my money on the generation of young people between the ages of 20 and 30, who are growing up in an atmosphere of freedom," he says and adds, this generation will promote the revolution. "We need a revolution in the way we think."

Learning to handle freedom

"Our society must learn how to deal with this newly-won freedom," women's rights activist Amir Grani agrees. "That's true for judges and teachers, but also for journalists and artists."

Amel Grani
People must learn how to deal with their new liberties, says Amel GraniImage: DW/Ute Schaeffer

The democracy movement can, however, take credit for establishing the freedom of the press. Today, Tunisia has more than 40 radio stations and as many newspapers, offering a variety of opinions instead of state propaganda and censorship. That's a direct result of the revolution, says Béchir Ouarda, who coordinates an NGO for the protection of the freedom of the press (CCDLE).

But Ouarda feels the freedom of the press is threatened; he says the government has increasingly tried to manipulate the media since the Islamist Ennahda party came to power.

Symbol Zeitungsvielfalt Tunesien
Tunisians can choose from a wide array of media nowImage: DW/Ute Schaeffer

"There is a tendency to return to the methods of the Ben Ali dictatorship to influence the media," Bechir Ouarda says. Staff is chosen accordingly: "People close to those in power are given jobs at the head of the state media; at the same time, new broadcasting stations emerge, broadcasting without a license."

The greatest threat to the budding media diversity is its lack of funding and expertise. Many new radio and TV stations are unprofitable and depend on financial aid from businesses. Most of all, they lack the means or the courage to fulfill their actual duty, which is finding and researching topics which those in power want to keep under wraps.

At the mercy of the rulers

Tunisia's journalists haven't yet found their feet as critical and independent reporters, Ouarda says, adding that they avoid some important issues.

Salem Ayari agrees the media should act as a control authority critical of Tunisia's transformation. "Our media don't uncover inconsistencies," he says. "They don't ask where the money goes and why the funds don't go to the employment programs as planned - they have quickly become pawns of power in Tunisia."

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