Tag Archives: arab spring

Democracy Has Survived in Tunisia, But What Comes Next?


Hiba Safi is a CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS Fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy

After decades of dictatorship, Tunisia’s revolution set in motion a series of uprisings across the Arab world, laying the foundations for a flourishing democracy. It has become the sole “flower” of the Arab Spring and is now heralded as a role model for the Middle East and North Africa region. However, behind the shiny façade, the road towards democracy has certainly not been without barriers and Tunisia still faces numerous hurdles not only in managing security but also solidifying democratic institutions.

Today, Tunisia has made enormous progress in its democratic transition – its future is determined by Tunisians themselves, able to choose their political leaders and their own path. Freedom House described Tunisia in its annual report as “the Arab world’s only free country, the sole success story of the Arab Spring and a full-fledged democracy,” while the Economist Intelligence Unit classified Tunisia as the most democratic Arab state in its last democracy index.

The “Tunisian exception,” political analysts say, resulted from a reconciliation between modern ideals and Islam, the neutral role played by army, a genuine multiparty democracy, a successful national dialogue initiative, and the massive role played by civil society pushing for an end to the Tunisian political crisis.

As a result of these and other factors, Tunisia underwent its first peaceful, democratic transfer of power in December 2014, accompanied by a newly elected parliament, the first democratic presidential elections, and a new constitution, all conducted in a free, fair, and transparent process.

This peaceful political transition is seen as a positive example to the region that should bring hope in the midst of a bloody civil war in Syria, deeply embedded divisions in Libya, and chaos in Yemen. Tunisia now stands tall as the relative success story among the recent popular revolutions in the region.

But to sustain this progress into the future, it must also get its economy on the right footing.

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Bread for the Masses: Economic Empowerment to Achieve Social Justice in Egypt


This is the third in a three-part series addressing recent findings of the Arab Barometer, whose objectives include the production of scientifically reliable data on the political attitudes of ordinary citizens. Read the previous two posts about the Arab Barometer findings in Iraq and Jordan.

“Bread, Freedom, Social Justice” was the unified chant that filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square in January 2011. Almost four years later, this call for bread,– for dignified livelihoods — remains a driving force for sustainable economic reforms that can open financial opportunities for all citizens, create jobs for the burgeoning youth population, bolster the suffering economy, and ultimately take steps towards achieving social justice in Egypt.

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Street Politics Aren’t Enough: Careful Economic Reform Will Foster Democracy and Stability in Jordan

Jordanians protest over food prices in 2011. Source: The Guardian.

Jordanians protest over food prices in 2011.
Source: The Guardian.

This blog is the second in a three-part series addressing recent findings of the Arab Barometer, whose objectives include the production of scientifically reliable data on the political attitudes of ordinary citizens. Read the first part, about Iraq, here.

By James Stricker

In Jordan, economic factors have played an important role in political stability since 2011. Jordanians as a whole consider economic rights to be a core component of democracy.  This is demonstrated by the fact that most public protests began as a response to economic grievances. The trend corresponds strongly with the Arab Barometer’s recent MENA opinion poll results: throughout the region, Arabs are at least as concerned with securing their economic rights as they are with securing political rights.

As the Arab Spring gained momentum in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, a number of protests sprang up throughout Jordan in 2011. However, the most prevalent slogans were not against the regime itself, nor were they about securing more political rights.  Instead, Jordanians who took to the streets voiced their frustrations with price inflation and corruption.

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Reforming the Entrepreneurship Ecosystem: A Study on Barriers to Growth in Tunisia and Egypt


The popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011 were sparked by citizen frustration based on a range of grievances including lack of opportunity, dissatisfaction with local governance, corruption, and unemployment. The public self-immolation by Tunisian informal entrepreneur, Mohamed Bouazizi, was a shocking demonstration of the frustration and hopelessness felt by some sectors of society and led to calls for political and economic reforms to address citizen grievances. Today, however, North African economies still urgently need economic reforms to promote greater economic inclusion and provide opportunities for youth.

The Center on Development, Democracy, and the Rule of Law at Stanford, in cooperation with CIPE, has conducted a survey of 131 Egyptian and Tunisian entrepreneurs and business owners to find what that the greatest barriers are to the growth of businesses in these countries. As Global Entrepreneurship Week comes to a close, CIPE is releasing an Economic Reform Feature Service article by Amr Adly about the study to contribute to the continuing conversation on supporting entrepreneurs around the world.

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Entrepreneurship in Egypt and Tunisia After the Arab Spring


In 2011, both Tunisia and Egypt were rocked by popular protests against economic and political repression that ended in the ouster of their authoritarian governments. Three years later, how much progress have these states made in reforming their economies? And what has happened to the entrepreneurs whose grievances helped fuel these revolutions?

Reforming the Entrepreneurship Ecosystem in Post-Revolutionary Egypt and Tunisia, a report from CIPE and Stanford University’s Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL), attempts to answer these key questions. With this report, CIPE staff and IACE will engage policymakers and stakeholders in roundtable discussions to formulate policy recommendations in the coming weeks.

Working with CIPE Cairo staff and CIPE partner L’Institut Arabe des Chefs d’Entreprises (IACE) in Tunisia, lead researcher Amr Adly conducted an extensive study of existing literature and over 100 detailed interviews with entrepreneurs in each country to shed light on the obstacles and opportunities that comprise the entrepreneurial ecosystems in these post-revolutionary states.

The survey results paint a small yet detailed portrait of what life is like for the Egyptians and Tunisians trying to make ends meet in countries with increasing unemployment rates, among other worries. Dysfunctional and inaccessible regulatory structures, crony networks solidified by corrupt past regimes, and a lack of access to information for the private sector and policymakers are only a few of the areas for which Adly’s research provides nuance.

Who are the entrepreneurs that can withstand such an unstable environment? The majority of respondents in both countries affirmed that they do not trust formal contract enforcement, managed to start their business largely through self-financing due to a lack of access to loans, and endure high transaction costs as a result of inadequate institutions. They are men and women, younger and older, more or less educated, formally registered or informally operating, risking bankruptcy and/or jail time for a failed venture, running joint or solo endeavors—and they are all citizens for whom their government is not working.

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Arab Spring Grievances Still Not Being Addressed in Yemen

A street vendor in Sana'a, Yemen. (Photo: Rick McCharles)

A street vendor in Sana’a, Yemen. (Photo: Rick McCharles)

More than two years ago, the suicide of a Tunisian street vendor named Mohammed Tarek Bouazizi set off a string of protests that eventually led to regime change and promises of reform throughout the Arab world. Unfortunately, the root causes of Bouazizi’s frustrations have still not been addressed in countries like Yemen.

In 2011, after having his wares confiscated for failing to pay a bribe, Bouazizi succumbed to the pressures of poverty and desperation, committing suicide by self-immolation. This tragic act led to what later became known as the Arab Spring, arguably the greatest geopolitical realignment since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But the millions of street vendors and others who work in the informal sector have not yet realized the promise of democracy. They remain vulnerable to extortion, harassment, and other forms of abuse. By not addressing the root causes of the Arab Spring, emerging democracies such as Yemen risk losing the popular support and legitimacy that are essential to a thriving democracy.

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Economic Inclusion, Democracy, and the Arab Spring

Examples of some of the informal legal documents used by "extralegal" businesses in the Arab world. (Source: ILD)

Examples of some of the informal legal documents used by “extralegal” businesses in the Arab world. (Source: ILD)

On December 17, 2010, police expropriated the equipment and goods of a fruit seller in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. Because of his informal status, the fruit seller had no option of appeal or avenue for official protest. He also had no collateral to secure a loan to buy new equipment, let alone grow his business. With no means of supporting his family of seven, the man now world famous for lighting the first spark of the Arab Spring, Mohammed Bouazizi, committed suicide by self immolation.

Bouazizi’s tragedy stemmed from an affront to his dignity, an absence of justice, and economic disenfranchisement. He was not alone. As the following months unfolded, it became clear just how many businesspersons and citizens across the region shared these same grievances when hundreds of thousands took to the streets to demand political and economic freedom.

Since then over two years have passed and Tunisians, Egyptians, and Libyans have experienced the unprecedented democratic elections and the chance to choose their own leaders. But free and fair elections, even at their best, are only half the battle.

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