2011 – Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia and the unfinished Arab Spring

On 17 December 2010, a 26-year-old fruit-seller Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire and ignited a revolution that swept across the Middle East.

Bouazizi’s desperate act to protest police violence tapped into an underlying popular anger in Tunisia suffering high unemployment, high food prices, and widespread poverty  and a corrupt autocratic government. Within days, street protests spread across Tunisia, leading to police crackdowns but also galvanizing further support from trade unions, lawyers and other professional organizations.   President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (who had been in power for 23 years) was eventually forced to flee the country on January 14. In October 2011, Tunisians voted for the first time for the country’s new constituent assembly.

The Tunisian revolution inspired subsequent revolutions throughout the Middle East, most notably Egypt where mass protests brought the end of the 30 year Mubarak regime. However while the democratic rebellions soured elsewhere (Syria dissolving into a brutal civil war, Libya into factional interfighting, Egypt into a full-formed counter-revolution), Tunisia continues to be a multi-party democracy with the current government made up of a broad coalition of secular, Islamist and leftist parties, independents and trade union allies.

Tunisia’s relative success is often attributed to the role of Tunisia's civil society institutions, in particular its largest trade union, its business organization, its lawyers association, and a leading human rights organization that in 2013, formed a "national dialogue quartet" that successfully brokered talks between rival political factions. Their ability to steer the political system toward consensus defused political tensions,helped draft a new constitution, and paved the way for 2014's elections. In 2015, the quartet was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of its work.