Coming to Tunisia for the first time was like a small victory for me. Back in 2005, I was denied an opportunity to pursue research in the country, as my project was seen as too controversial. What was I going to research? I was going to do a comparative study of the human rights structures of Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.
Fast forward six years, and it’s a whole new world. When I got off the plane, I am not sure what exactly I expected – but it wasn’t what I got. For some reason, I thought that the revolutionary fervor that drove Tunisians to throw out Ben Ali in January of this year would be palpable. Not long ago, Tunisians had gone to the polls for the first time in a free election in decades. And just yesterday, a new president took the oath of office.
But there seems to be an overwhelming hesitance gripping Tunisia. “We just don’t know what the future will hold,” is the sentiment that many people have expressed to me. While the government works out how to govern, the economy is floundering. Businesses are closing and foreign investment is leaving – just when it is needed most. And all of this is happening for the same reason that so many Tunisians are so nervous. It’s the uncertainty.
No one knows how this grand experiment is going to turn out. We’ve seen revolutions before (remember the color revolutions?) but the scale and speed with which this transition has taken place is unprecedented. What should the expectations be? How do you build a post-revolutionary economy during a world-wide recession?
A man I met today probably put it best when he said: “We are all benefitting from the revolution – we have free speech, we have YouTube now. But now that it is done, the people who really brought it to us, they are the ones suffering the most.” And he’s totally right. The jobless, the poor, the young, and the vulnerable continue to struggle to get by. So, while on one hand I’m really excited by the peaceful, well-thought out transition taking place in Tunisia, I can’t help but think about the other side of revolution – the one we don’t necessarily see, but can certainly feel.