Arab Spring: Alive and Well in Tunisia

It appears that Tunisians, like the Egyptians before them, have had enough of the Muslim Brotherhood party and want a change in direction in their country.
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It appears that Tunisians, like the Egyptians before them, have had enough of the Muslim Brotherhood party and want a change in direction in their country.

Just as in Egypt, it was the Tunisian Muslim Brotherhood party, Ennahda, which won their country's first post-revolution election. After winning, Ennahda formed a coalition government with more secular parties and pledged not to attempt to impose their beliefs on Tunisian society, which after decades of secular governance had developed an open and tolerant culture. In addition to bringing new prosperity, Tunisians expected that the post-revolution process would start with an elected interim National Constituent Assembly (ANC) that would write a new constitution and then prepare for a new election that would usher in a democratic order.

On most counts, the interim government has been deemed a failure. Two and one-half years after the revolution, the new constitution had still not been finalized. Nevertheless, the ANC has continued to extend its tenure, with many Tunisians viewing Ennahda as monopolizing power. At the same time, extremist currents have become a growing concern, especially after the assassinations of two liberal political leaders. And during all this time, the economy remained weak without the promised new jobs and opportunities that many had expected.

Growing pressure from the organized Tunisian street finally forced Ennahda to promise to step down opening the way to a new interim government and election.

In the period immediately preceding this development, from August 4 through August 31, Zogby Research Services (ZRS) surveyed 3031 Tunisian adults to determine their attitudes toward the events that have unfolded in Tunisia since the revolution.

What we found was a deeply dissatisfied electorate and an extremely polarized society. In some ways the divisions in Tunisia are similar to those we found in Egypt, in the poll we conducted in May of 2013, just prior to the June 30 Tamarrod demonstrations that culminated in the Egyptian military deposing the elected government of President Mohamed Morsi on July 3.

As was the case in Egypt, a majority of Tunisians now say that they have lost the hope they had two and one-half years ago. Like Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood-led government, headed in Tunisia by Ennahda, has diminished support and is currently distrusted by almost three-quarters of the Tunisian electorate. Just as Egyptians were upset that the ruling Freedom and Justice Party (Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood party) had monopolized power, Tunisians say that they too are concerned that Ennahda is dominating the government. And like Egypt, the governing party, Ennahda, now has the confidence of only 28 percent of Tunisians.

While over 90 percent Ennahda supporters show some degree of support for their government, over 95 percent of the rest of Tunisians (72 percent of the population) do not support the Ennahda-led government.

Also similar to the situation that existed in Egypt is the fact that the 72 percent of the rest of the electorate is divided amongst a number of relatively weak parties with no one party able to muster the confidence of more than one-quarter of the adult population.

There are, however, some real differences between Egypt and Tunisia. Tunisians are not looking to the military to make change. In fact, a majority of Tunisians (53 percent) say that they believe that the action by the Egyptian military was "incorrect."

The organized Tunisian opposition, to date, is comprised of a coalition of secular parties and the country's trade union movement. And while Tunisians are deeply concerned that Ennahda tolerated, for too long, the activities of extremist Salafi groups -- which they blame for the recent assassinations of two popular leftist political leaders -- it appears from the poll that the fear of "Islamization" of the country is not a major factor in the public's discontent with the government. Rather, the ZRS poll makes clear that the majority of Tunisians are disturbed by the government's ineffectiveness and its failure to deliver on the political and economic promises of their revolution.

The ZRS poll also shows:

- two-thirds of Tunisians feel their country is moving in the wrong direction; - less than one-third of Tunisians say that the government has been effective in addressing priority concerns like: expanding employment opportunities, dealing with the high cost of living and protecting personal and civil rights; - on not one of the eleven political concerns identified in the poll did a majority of Tunisians agree that the government has been effective; and - almost three-quarters of all Tunisians said that the current government was "dominated by Ennahda" and was not "a balanced coalition that insures moderation," with the same number saying that believed that "Ennahda was not committed to the goals of the revolution. Almost two-thirds of Tunisians find fault with the failure of the government to produce a constitution in a timely manner. And almost three-quarters say that the ANC, that was elected to amend and approve a draft constitution and set up the next election for a more permanent body, should not have extended its term in office and is now illegitimate. Additionally, while a majority claim that they still do not know enough about the draft constitution, nevertheless almost three-quarters of Tunisians say that what they do know about this document leads them the disapprove of it.

Finally, it is important to note, that there is a dearth of credible leadership in the country. In fact the only leader who enjoys 50 percent support is Hamadi Jebali, the current Secretary General of Ennahda. He had been Prime Minister, but resigned in February after the assassination of Chokri Belaid, a popular leftist leader. This act may account for Jebali's popularity. The other Tunisian whose support approaches 50 percent is retired General Rachid Ammar whose popularity rose when he refused to use force against demonstrators calling for the government of then President Ben Ali to resign.

Where Tunisia goes from here is uncertain. What is clear, however, is that while Ennahda remains a strong force in the country, the Muslim Brotherhood has exhausted itself and is no longer able to monopolize power and government. What is also clear is that an empowered Tunisian electorate is mobilized and appears able to assert itself. Far from dead, the spirit of the Arab Spring appears to be alive and well in Tunisia.