Last updated: 9 October, 2015

Tunisia, “the survivor” of the Arab Spring: expert

Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Tunisian civil society groups is a boost for democracy there and sends a message to the other countries of the Arab Spring where the revolution has been crushed, an expert said Friday.

Vincent Geisser, of the France-based Institute for the Research and Study of the Arab and Muslim World, warns however that although Tunisia has been praised for making more progress than Egypt and other countries, a substantial “grey area” remains for the North African nation.

Is Tunisia, the cradle of the Arab Spring, the last hope for democracy in the region?

It’s the only country affected by the Arab Spring which has successfully pursued a democratic process. There have been genuinely positive achievements: a new generation of young people involved in politics has appeared and room for protest has flourished.

The country’s regions, which were totally ignored under (former president) Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, have emerged as genuine players. There is a post-revolutionary civil society, a system of checks and balances, institutions and a democratically elected parliament.

In fact, I note that the big absence in the Nobel Prize were the lawmakers — the first elected in the post-Arab Spring election of 2011 — who worked for three years to create the first democratic constitution in the Arab world.


But despite these achievements, Tunisia is still in a grey area and finds itself in a fragile and precarious situation. There is a coalition of large hegemonic parties in the parliament, no real opposition and you see attempts at authoritarianism.

And the big promised reform of the security apparatus has never been undertaken… That’s all without even mentioning the external factors (such as the chaos in Libya) and the jihadist threat.

The country is therefore caught up in a lot of turbulence. But given the situation elsewhere, you could say that Tunisia is the survivor of the Arab Spring.

What are the prospects for countries that saw popular revolts in 2011 and which have since slipped into chaos or repression?

We’re now seeing a sort of authoritarian resilience in the Arab world, of which Egypt is the most flagrant example. With President (Abdel Fattah) al-Sisi and his regime, it is in some ways even more authoritarian than it was under (former president Hosni) Mubarak.

But I think that this return to authoritarianism is a short- or medium-term thing, because Arab societies have woken up, a new generation has appeared, speech is freer and it cannot go back to the way it was before.

The Arab world has shown a sort of democratic boldness and it will be impossible now to silence it — areas of freedom have been created despite the repressive logic.

Of course it will take time, but I think that we’ve entered the post-dictatorship period… But for the time being, while society has made progress, the regimes have not.

Can we really speak of hope when so much is going wrong in Syria?

Syria is a special case, with on one hand a regime bent on going all the way and on the other, external interference which has changed the nature of the conflict.

But in Syria too, room to protest has emerged. It is hidden by the terrible nature of what is happening, but very many Syrians still refuse to be restricted to the choice of “Assad or the Islamic State”.

I think giving the Nobel Peace Prize to the Tunisian quartet could also send the message that democracy is possible in the Arab world. You can see it both as a sort of democratic boost for Tunisia and a sign to other countries where the democratic Spring has turned bad.