Tunisia struggles years after the Arab Spring

By Shaimaa Khalil
BBC News, Cairo

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Tunisia is considered the birthplace of the Arab Spring which spread across the region

When Tunisian President Zain al-Abedine Ben Ali made a speech telling his people he had finally understood what they wanted and promised reform, not many believed him. Fewer still could have predicted what happened next.

On 14 January 2011, he fled the country to Saudi Arabia, marking a new dawn not only for Tunisia but the whole of the Middle East.

Tunisia will always be the birthplace of the Arab Spring. It can claim that much. But two years on, many Tunisians say things are not getting any better.

When street vendor Mohamed Bouzizi burned himself to death more than two years ago to protest against police humiliation and the lack of job opportunities, he started a revolt led by Tunisian youth.

They took to the streets to demand real freedom and the right for a better future in their own country. Until that happens, many Tunisians feel that the mission of their revolution remains unaccomplished.

'Political tensions'

The young people who have backed the revolution hoping for a better future are frustrated at the government's lack of political and economic vision.

"Contrary to what the government claims, the rate of unemployment has risen since the revolution, and graduates represent more than a third of around one million job seekers," Salem Ayari, of the union for jobless graduates, told Agence-France Presse news agency.

"Political tensions, nepotism and corruption have exacerbated an already critical economic situation," he added.

Alaa Edinne Derbala, a young Tunisian who took to the streets in 2011 to oust Ben Ali, says the problem shows that the government led by the Islamist al-Nahda party has no real plan for change.

"It won't be easy to minimise the rate of unemployment, but at least we have to see strong signs from the government that they have a strategy. But until now we haven't seen this, (we don't know) what they will do," he said.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Many did not believe Ben Ali when he promised change and reform

Cautious optimism

Mr Alaa remains optimistic, however, and says it was the revolution that inspired him to start his own small mobile phone company.

"I started this business six months after the revolution. My vision was of more prosperity and that the (road) will be clear for a young person like me to be a businessman."

Mr Alaa understands that the business will not always be smooth sailing. But he says that at least he will not have to worry about all the businesses in Tunisia being under the hands of the president's family, as he put it.

"There was a limit," he said.

"A certain level, and if you cross that level of business, you could be sure that someone from the president's family would want to come and associate themselves with your company. Many businessmen suffered from that.

"I can't say that now is much better than before," Mr Alaa added. "But we are starting and we still have a long way to go."