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Noah Feldman

Tunisia's Protests Are Different This Time

Go ahead, shake up the economy. The democracy won't crack.
What do we want? Better jobs.

What do we want? Better jobs.

Photographer: Sofiene Hamdaoui/AFP/Getty Images

Events in Tunisia look, on the surface, like a replay of 2011. A frustrated, unemployed man killed himself Jan. 17 in an act of protest that was intended to remind everyone of the self-immolation of a fruit seller that set off the Arab Spring. Protests then spread from city to city. They focused on rampant unemployment, which was one of the concerns of the protesters last time. Eventually, the government had to call a curfew to make the protests die down, which they eventually did.

Deeper down, the situation in 2016 is fundamentally different. The reason is democracy. There’s no doubt that the Tunisian revolution, and the successful constitutional process that followed it, had serious shortfalls. The greatest is unquestionably the lack of meaningful economic reform; the protesters are justified in their demands for transformation.