It’s the Freedom in the World Report 2015 that reports Tunisia for the first time as free. This is the Freedom House’s highest status, and for many political watchers a definitive indication of a modern liberal democracy. Since Freedom Houses began its global worldwide assessment of political rights and civil liberties in 1972, Tunisia is the only North African state to have been given the status of free and only the second Arab majority state since Lebanon was given the rating between 1974 to 1976.
War Torn Past
There has been very little time for Tunisians to celebrate though. Jihadists conducted a deadly raid on the Tunis Bardo Museum on March 18th 2015, and left 20 foreign tourists dead, as well as 3 tunisians. This has led several analysts to warn that Tunisia’s democracy could be at serious risk.
Analysts estimated that the threats reached well beyond irregular intervals of jihadist violence. They also include the inevitable return of several thousand young Tunisians who are returning from wars such as those in the Middle East, as well as inequality between the cosmopolitan urban north of the country, and the clan conscious rural south. There are the remnants of regime Ben Ali, in the security sector along with hardliners that could nudge out the more moderate leaders in Ennahda, Tunisia’s main Islamist party.
Liberal Democracy Status
There are few youthful states that have attained a liberal democracy, and most, indicated by history, have lost that status within a decade. This is a conclusion that should encourage the development policymakers to act cautiously when trying to encourage the more youthful countries of the world into higher established levels of democracy.
As well as articles stemming from research conducted by the National Intelligence Council, other people have called attention to the huge rise of levels of democracy among the structurally more mature states and also the fragility of the democracies that are youthful. These democratic relationships have always been the focus of many political and global commentators.
Taking a view from the statistical perspective of political demographics, Tunisia is not the only anomaly in the Middle East that analysts often portray it to be. The political transition of the country was similar in age structural timing to the ascents to liberal democracy in countries such as Southern Europe in the 1970’s including Portugal, Spain, and Greece. Then in the 1980’s to the early 2000s like South Korea, Thailand, and Indonesia. Then more recently countries in Latin America such as Argentina, Brazil and Chile.
There has been 62 declines from the free status recorded in the data of Freedom House, and of these the vast majority have occurred in states with their median age as less than 26 years. States like Tunisia, which have been given a median age of 20 years or older decline to a lower status less frequently. Since 1972, there has been only 3 such declines recorded by Freedom House. This has been Thailand, which lost its free status in 2005, and has since declined to the lowest freedom status, not free. Latvia was the second country to show such a decline in 1992, and then Ukraine in 2010.
Taking the average estimates from Freedom House, and Tunisia’s median age of just over 31, there is a less than 2% chance that they will lose their free status. Only if Tunisia can avoid the pitfalls of any major conflicts and scuffles with bad neighbours will it be able to hold on to its status. Some of the Middle Eastern Analysts would likely argue that the democracy in Tunisia is a fleeting remnant of the Arab Spring. However, Tunisia remains the most likely of all the Arab majority states to hold a consistent liberal democracy.
According to the UN Population Division Tunisia’s has passed the point where the age structural model gave the country a 50% probability of still being a liberal democracy in 2010. Algeria, Morocco, and Libya are all projected to reach a median age of approximately 30 years, and Libya is currently a failed state. For countries such as Egypt, their same medium age is not expected to reach maturity until 2030. This leaves only one country to reach this level of maturity before, and that’s Bahrain, which thanks to the popularization of western sports such as Formula 1 looks to be on course.
Some critics will argue that the geopolitical situation of Tunisia’s really sets its democracy apart. It’s through the regional decline of communist influence that today’s democracies in South Europe, East Asia and also Latin America have stabilized. In contrast to organized political Islam and jihadist violence which is on the increase globally.
Tunisia’s Democratic Future
Tunisia’s democracy has not been built on statistics. It’s through the tenacity and sacrifice from the millions of Tunisians that democracy has come to fruition. It would be a shame to other parts of the region if Tunisia’s was to slip away, and lose this status as the world’s newest liberal democracy. Tunisia is a country with heart, and political strength, and hopefully we can see it continue to rise and become a great economic success story.