First Published: 2012-12-14


Two years, on Arab Spring states awash with problems


Tunisians dismayedby political, economic paralysis, Egyptians divided more than ever, Libyans feel insecure.


Middle East Online

By Mokhtar Kahouli - SIDI BOUZID, Tunisia

Power struggle

Tunisians, already troubled by the rise of radical Islamists, are eyeing the political and economic paralysis gripping their country with a dismay shared across much of the region two years after the Arab Spring began.

In Sidi Bouzid -- the central town where Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire on December 17, 2010, an act of desperation that sparked Tunisia's uprising and touched off the Arab Spring -- celebrations are planned to mark the anniversary.

But reflecting the country's political divisions, part of the celebrations committee resigned in protest on Thursday, complaining of a "stranglehold" over the event by the ruling Islamist party Ennahda.

And an anti-government rally is expected on the day, by opposition activists angry at their leaders' failure to kickstart a recovery and improve living conditions.

Residents of the restive town are almost unanimous that nothing has changed since the ouster of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, with unemployment, a driving factor behind the uprising, continuing to plague the region.

"What revolution are you talking about? Nothing has changed here," laments Ezzedine Nasri, a street vendor like Bouazizi.

Nasri's wife, a university graduate, has been unable to find work since 2002.

Since coming to power in October 2011 after winning Tunisia's first free elections, the government has struggled to revive the economy and is accused, in particular, of turning a blind eye towards crimes allegedly committed by the Salafist movement.

The Salafists, hardline Islamists, have been implicated in numerous acts of violence this year, including against Sufi shrines and art galleries and an attack in September on the US embassy in Tunis that left four people dead.

As recently as Thursday night, presumed Salafists attacked a hotel in the town of Sbeitla and tried to set it on fire after sacking the lobby and destroying bottles of alcohol in the hotel bar, police and witnesses said.

Tunisia's Constituent Assembly has made little progress in drafting a new constitution and electoral law, with the process repeatedly hampered by differences between Islamists and secularists within the interim parliament.

Legislative and presidential elections have been postponed to June and could be pushed back further, contributing to the sense of uncertainty.

On Wednesday, Fitch Ratings cut Tunisia's credit rating by one notch to BB+, putting its debt in the speculative or so-called junk category, saying the country's "economic and political transition is proving longer and more difficult than anticipated."

In Egypt, President Mohamed Morsi's decree last month giving him near-absolute powers in a bid to push through a divisive new constitution has sparked weeks of rival protests by his Islamist followers and secular opponents.

Under mounting pressure, Morsi rescinded the decree at the weekend but is pushing through with a referendum this weekend on the constitution, which the opposition is urging its supporters to reject, claiming it undermines fundamental human rights and could lead to a strong Islamist influence on future legislation.

Fears of violence are running high after clashes in Cairo last week in which eight people were killed and more than 600 injured.

Earlier this week, the IMF put on hold a $4.8-billion loan Egypt has sought to fill budget gaps it will face in the 2013-2014 fiscal year, after the government asked for a delay in the negotiations because of the political situation.

In Libya, the authorities managed to organise general elections in July and have restored oil production levels, but security has proven the biggest challenge facing the government since the ouster of dictator Moamer Gathafi last year.

Eight months of armed conflict left daunting challenges for the transitional authorities, who are struggling to build up state institutions and rein in the militias that were the backbone of the anti-Gathafi war.

Libya's economy has made a swift recovery.

But the country is awash with weapons and extremist groups remain a serious threat, as illustrated by the September 11 assault on the US consulate in Benghazi, in which US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.


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