Election Report

Constituent Assembly Elections, 23 October 2011

The surprising events that began on 17 December with the immolation of a young Mohammed Bouazizi in the city of Sidi Bouzid would unleash a national catharsis of unprecedented consequences with a far-reaching impact. The incident, the result of an individual humiliation, transformed itself into a collective realisation among broad swathes of society that their situation was indignant and intolerable. In Sfax, then in Tunis and little by little across the whole country, these groups rose up, rousing a protest against the regime that was both decentralised and unstoppable. Although Tunisia had already known several organised protest movements in recent years, of lawyers, human rights militants, and especially of the Gafsa phosphate mining area in 2008, it turned out to be impossible to disactive the new protests. The Wikileaks cables about the mafia-style ruling clan, popularly called BAT (Ben Ali Trabelsi) published in Le Monde, The Guardian and Der Spiegel at the beginning of the year, confirmed what everybody knew but just whispered about.

The flight of Ben Ali on 14 January produced an outpouring of joy and an enormous surprise across the world. This, after all, was one of the most solid of the Arab dictatorships, established in 1987. The Army, small and relatively disconnected from politics, had forced Ben Ali and his family to leave the country, refusing to continue the police's violent repression which had resulted in a hundred lives (martyrs) in less than a month. Instability continued after Ben Ali's departure and the two governments - essentially of continuity - that were established did not take long to fall either. Pressure from Tunisia's youths, concentrated especially in the Casbah Square in Tunis, forced the governments, both headed by Mohammed Ghannouchi, to resign. Until February, gunmen sent by members of the Ben Ali regime sowed terror in the neighbourhoods, forcing youths to organise security patrols. If that was not enough, the Libyan crisis which exploded in March 2011, sent a wave of refugees across the Tunisian border - more than 700,000 people have sought refuge in the tiny country, collapsed by its own internal problems.