For years, Tunisia was known mostly as the most European country of North Africa and Arab world, with a relatively large middle class (80% of the total population), liberal social norms, broad gender equality and welcoming hotels. But on the 14th January 2011 it took center large as the launching pad of the wave of revolt that swept through the Arab world.
For all its moderns traits, Tunisia had one of the most repressive governments in a region full of the police states, and levels of corruption among its elite that became intolerable once economic malaise that has gripped southern Europe spread to the country. In what became as the “Jasmine Revolution”, a sudden and explosive wave of street protests ousted the authoritarian president, Ben Ali, who had ruled with an iron hand for 23 years (upon his state coup of 7th November 1987). On January 14th, Ben Ali left the country, after trying unsuccessfully to placate the demonstrators with promises of election. According to the government figures issued later, most than 400 protesters died and 94 were injured during the demonstrations. The Prime Minister, Mohamed Ghanouchi, created a government of unity, but in late February, as demonstrations continued, he resigned in response to complaints that was too closely to Ben Ali. He was replaced by Beji Caid Essebsi, who was chosen because during a long carrier as an official who worked with the Tunisian first president, Habib Bourguiba. He built a record of trying to change the system from within.
Mr. Essebsi’s caretaker government was confronted with nearly daily protests by a variety of groups; the police force and judicial system have all been badly weakened by their links of the outside regime.
The interim government scheduled election for 24 July, when voters were to pick members of an assembly than will rewrite the constitution. But in June, Mr. Kamel Jandoubi, announced the vote would be held in October. Election officials said that millions of Tunisians were unregistered, while leaders of the new political parties that sprang up since that revolution said they needed more time to be able to compete with Ennahda (whose name means renaissance in Arabic), an Islamic party that had been banned by the dictatorship. Polling suggests that Ennahda enjoys broader support that any of the country’s other 100-odd authorized political parties, most whom did not exist until after the revolution.
Accused as subversives or conservatives, member of Ennahda bore the repressive brunt of Ben Ali reign, two decades of torture, prison or exile, suffering that has established their credibility, particularly among the more conservative residents of the country’s rural areas.
Mr. Essebsi had responded to the continuity protests and occasional violence in the capital and around the country by alternately pushing back and giving in. In early September, as protests and violence continued, the Tunisian Prime Minister, Beji Caid Essebsi, announced a broad security crackdown, including authorizing the Interior Minister to ban meeting deemed to threaten stability and to put individuals under house arrest.
The election scheduled for 23th October 2011 chooses a new constituent assembly that will govern Tunisia while drafting a new constitution. It promises to be the first free and fair election not only in Tunisia but also in the all Arab world, offering him the historic chance to hand over power in a peaceful, democratic transition (a rare event in the history of the region).