Tunisia has made international headlines again with the recent storming of the U.S. Embassy by ultraconservative Islamists. Observers and commentators have tried to explain the events and the rage behind them, the attackers' high level of organization, and the government's inadequate security response and late condemnation. At least one part of that explanation lies in the fact that the Tunisian people are, yet again, disappointed with their government, and a dysfunctional political process has failed to address the core concerns of citizens.
Tunisians took to the streets in late December 2010 and early January 2011 calling for the end of an authoritarian regime responsible for vast income inequality, widespread unemployment, crippling corruption, and a draconian police state apparatus. Despite the glory of a revolution paid for with the blood of many young people, culminating in the triumph of democratic elections, all of these problems persist. Meanwhile polls show that Tunisians believe their elected officials have accomplished nothing.
Promises to develop Tunisia's long-neglected interior have seen half-hearted implementation, and unemployment is higher now than it was prior to the revolution. Promises to clean up corruption have proven to be empty as the government's transitional justice minister claims he is not responsible for the problem. Opposition parties charge that efforts to create a Temporary Judicial Commission are merely an attempt by the governing Islamist Ennahdha party to exert undue political control over the judicial system. Though the worst forms of police abuse were stopped following the revolution, promises to reform the security forces have fallen short as old tactics and old figures re-emerge.
So what went wrong?
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Tunisia's popular revolution aimed to create a government that would stand in stark contrast to the previous one in terms of professionalism and transparency. But so far Tunisians are still waiting. The constituent assembly, tasked with writing a new constitution, has not published minutes of any meetings in either committee or plenary sessions. In addition, voting records and attendance have not been revealed, although observers note that only five or ten of the 20-member drafting commissions attended regularly. Absenteeism has been particularly prevalent amongst opposition parties, partly because some do not take their jobs seriously and partly because some want to see Ennahdha fail, according to several observers who are closely watching the process.
Part of this reflects a cultural legacy, according to Mabrouka M'barek, an assembly member from governing coalition's Congress for the Republic Party (CPR). "I was the first to start live-tweeting the assembly sessions," says M'barek. "My colleagues didn't understand what I was doing. They told me I was exposing state secrets. I said, ‘No, this is the constitution, which concerns all citizens.'