What happened in Tunisia after the fall of Ben Ali was obscured as attention moved to uprisings in Egypt, Syria and Libya—and their counter‑revolutions.
Tunisians didn’t face the same horrific level of repression. But they didn’t win a regime that came close to meeting their demands for social justice.
Instead they still grapple with poverty, unemployment and corruption—and a series of governments in constant crisis.
That’s why Tunisian socialist Jaouhar Bani says the revolution “hasn’t succeeded”.
“We cannot just celebrate,” he told Socialist Worker.
The first elections after the fall of Ben Ali ended with a coalition government led by the Islamist party Ennahda, previously outlawed by Ben Ali.
Jaouhar explained that it “represented a party that had been exiled and repressed by the regime, and so was on the same side as the population”.
“But Ennahda knew they had to rule, and rule in the same old way,” he said. “You wouldn’t call them counter-revolutionary, but they wanted to stop the revolutionary process.”
The new government was caught between the demands of those who elected it and those of the rich.
Investors attracted by the poor workers’ rights that existed under Ben Ali’s regime began to pull their money out after his fall.
Ennahda implemented free market reforms including fuel subsidy cuts, price rises and ending public sector hiring.
Tunisians soon struck and protested against the new government—whose police forces responded with violent repression.
When left wing opposition politicians Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahimi were assassinated within months of each other in 2013, there were huge strikes and protests.
Many people accused Ennahda of being complicit in the killings. It was forced to dissolve the government and call new elections in 2014.
Yet Belaid and Brahimi’s left wing Popular Front coalition party got barely 4 percent in the election.
Jaouhar says it hadn’t offered an independent left wing alternative, and in practice backed what it saw as a “progressive or less reactionary bourgeoisie.”
Governments that followed continued with the same pro‑market policies demanded by the rich.
The rate of unemployment in Tunisia now—16 percent—is worse than it was when the revolution began in 2010.
The main opposition—the right wing Free Destourian Party—says life was better under Ben Ali’s regime.
Jaouhar says this is one result of the constant crisis of the Tunisian ruling class since the revolution. The other side is repeated outbursts of resistance by ordinary people constantly pushed to fight for better—mostly in regions outside the main cities.
People demand more jobs and a more equal distribution of wealth.
Mining and energy industries sap resources out of their areas—but ordinary people don’t benefit.
Just last month strikes and protests demanding jobs shut down Tunisia’s entire phosphate industry—hugely important to the economy.
“After the dictatorship it has been easier for people to protest,” said Jaouhar. “There is still the prospect of fighting because of the continued crisis.
“Once every one or two years there is a small uprising in the winter time.
“It’s when people feel the weight of poverty more. It’s also around the anniversary of the revolution.”
It was not inevitable that the Tunisian revolution would be blocked from winning fundamental change.
Building stronger workers’ organisation, and a revolutionary left, will be crucial for giving the battles to come a better chance of success.
Jaouhar warned that the left in Tunisia must connect with the demands and struggles of ordinary people.
“The possibilities are there,” he said. “The crisis for the revolution is also a crisis for the regime.”