Disgust over corruption threatens Tunisia’s trajectory, MENA stability


Armed with banners, placards and cigarettes, dozens of protesters gathered in the Tunisian capital Tunis on Sunday for the first-ever demonstration of its kind – the right not to fast for Ramadan.

Popular perceptions of Tunisia’s economy are at an all-time low amid continued fears for the future of the country, according to a new poll by the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) Center for Insights in Survey Research:

A combined 89 percent of Tunisians describe the economy as either “very bad” (63 percent) or “somewhat bad” (26 percent). When asked about the best way to improve the economy, 85 percent cited fighting corruption and bribery as a “very good” option. Dissatisfaction with the government is higher than ever, with a combined 68 percent rating the government’s performance as either “very bad” (41 percent) or “somewhat bad” (27 percent). In addition, an overwhelming majority (83 percent) feel that the country is headed in the wrong direction, a figure which matches the historical high figure recorded in previous polls by IRI.*

When questioned about the high proportion of Tunisians who have left the country to fight as militants in Libya, Syria and Iraq, a clear majority (81 percent) affirmed that Tunisians should not engage in violent conflicts in other Muslim countries. When asked how the government should treat foreign fighters who return to Tunisia, 25 percent advocate deportation; 18 percent say they should be subject to criminal trial; 15 percent favor imprisonment; and 15 percent want rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

“This survey reflects mounting frustration over Tunisia’s economic situation and persistent pessimism over the country’s trajectory,” said Scott Mastic, IRI Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “It is crucial that the government take steps to address obstacles to economic growth and restore confidence in the government’s ability to build a better future for Tunisia.”

Recent research [see below] suggests that corruption continues to be a major cause of discontent throughout the Middle East and North Africa [and] confirms the findings in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, which ranks several countries in the region among the most corrupt in the world, according to University of Aberdeen researchers Pamela Abbott, Andrea Teti and Roger Sapsford.

“Our research, which is part of the Arab Transformations Project, includes a public opinion poll of almost 10,000 people across the region carried out in late 2014,” they write. “It found that corruption was perceived as by far the most important cause of the Arab Uprisings in Iraq, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. In Egypt and Jordan, it came a close second after economic problems.”

Secret detentions are marring anti-corruption efforts, said Human Rights Watch, citing the referral of businessman Chafik Jarraya to trial before a military court, and the incommunicado detention of seven other men in undisclosed locations, as a threat to human rights in Tunisia.

Tunisia’s ‘war against corruption’ feels like a fake, notes one observer. A new economic reconciliation law protects Tunisia’s clientelist structures and replaces the process of transitional justice. A real transition away from the old authoritarian social contract will be impossible if it passes, researchers suggest.

But there are concerns about freedom of expression and censorship after the authorities followed the region’s authoritarian regimes in banning a worldwide blockbuster movie because the lead actress, Gal Gadot (left), is Israeli.

Following on from the film’s banning in Lebanon,  Tunisia is suspending the upcoming premiere of “Wonder Woman” due to a protest by the People’s Movement, an Arab nationalist political party, according to a report by Deadline Hollywood. 

* A core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Corruption in state institutions and agencies (%)

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