With nearly two months to go before constituent assembly elections, Tunisia confronts a long list of challenges to the creation of a democratic system. Expectations for swift and wide-ranging reforms are very high among a population hungry for change after decades of harsh authoritarian rule. Ordinary citizens are eager to enjoy the benefits of meaningful political freedom and economic prosperity, having endured unrelenting repression, mismanagement, and the plundering of resources by a small circle around the family of former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. The political uncertainty in the wake of the dictator’s departure has taken a toll on the Tunisian economy and its tourism sector in particular, on which some 500,000 people in this country of 10 million depend for employment. The ongoing conflict in neighboring Libya is another encumbrance, as it deprives Tunisia of much-needed trade revenue and generates regional instability.
Testimony by David J. Kramer, Freedom House President, before the House Committee on Foreign Afrs Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia on the state of democracy and human rights in Eastern Europe, July 26, 2011.
The thousands that filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square, once again, on July 8 were not demanding the downfall of a regime. They were, instead, standing up for the promise of a revolution that they fear has gone badly wrong. They were there to demand that the country’s military rulers honor their vows to effect a transition to genuine democracy, with all that entails—not just free and fair elections, although those remain in doubt—but justice for those victimized and killed by the security forces during the revolution, legal accountability for figures of the Mubarak regime accused of serious crimes, and transparent governance by the military on the road to democracy. There is a sense in Egypt that the gains of the revolution may be slipping away, and the political process is in danger of failing.These concerns are far from unwarranted.