This Is What Young Tunisians Have To Say About the Country’s Upcoming Constitutional Referendum

There’s a lot to unpack

Some big decisions are about to be made in Tunisia as the Mediterranean country’s citizens are gearing up to vote on Monday on a draft constitution that many fear might pull the democratic republic back under authoritarian rule. 

In the new suggested constitution, President Kais Saied, who’s been in office since 2019, is basically seeking permission from his people to, quite literally, grant himself with more powers and authority than he already has. The proposed constitution would see Tunisia’s political system turn back to a framework that would be very similar to the one in place before the 2011 revolution, known as The Arab Spring. 

Just last summer, the 64-year-old head of state made headlines for suspending the country’s parliament and amending, to his own favor, many significant elements of the nation’s main legal texts therefore centralizing most decision-making instruments into his hands. Although supposedly temporary, Saied is now attempting to make these controversial shifts permanent, reminding nationals of the North African country of former president (read: dictator) Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s 23-year-long reign.

The youth, unarguably the architects of Tunisia’s tomorrow, have unfortunately not seen much change in the last decade, despite having went through, as well as inspired, waves of demonstrations across the Arab World. With unemployment rates among the highest in the world and only increasing, levels of inflation reaching all-time highs, and a quality of living that is deteriorating by the day, many are feeling helpless and hopeless as to what their home country can ensure and assure for their future.

With the upcoming referendum seen and understood as a potential catalyzing moment for all, we asked five young Tunisians to share their thoughts on the upcoming nation-wide poll.

Meriem, 29 

At this stage, I think the referendum is a fantasy where people think they are carrying on the principles of democracy, while in reality it’s another stab at what the country has accomplished since 2012 and the bloody fight that led to what is now the first Arab democracy and the cradle of Arab Spring.  

The referendum is the last straw telling us that things won’t get any better and we should prepare ourselves for what is next. Even though we have never been under a military rule like our neighbors, the old system can always regenerate itself, more brutal yet less explicit. When all of this is happening in the political sphere, young Tunisians have to deal with the consequences of bureaucracy and the limitations of our educational, economic, and administrative systems. 

The gap between what we see as a reform, and what those in power imagine is just too  huge to be filled. As a young Tunisian who once staunchly believed in staying in the country and trying to change things, I believe this is a wake up call telling us to save ourselves and protect our dreams by finding a way out of Tunisia. 

Chams, 27

I believe it’s a new era for dictatorship. The current government may be good, but in bad hands, we might get stuck with a new constitution that allow the same behaviors from before the revolution. I believe it can’t be worse than what we have now, though!

Yannis, 21

Honestly, I just don’t care. I want to be as grounded as possible to what is going on right now and not be as delusional as older generations were. My cousins who are older than me and lived the revolution all thought that going on the streets was going to change something and make our lives better, but look at where we are now— back to square one. This vote means nothing to me the same way we mean nothing in the eyes of those in power. 

Sara, 31

I don’t have any hope. It feels like we’re only heading back to pre-Arab Spring days. There’s a real contradiction in what the president says and what he eventually ends up doing. He always does the opposite of what he announces which, as most would probably agree, isn’t going so well.

I still think that things can change — especially if young people head to vote. But that’s not going to be the case. Out of all of my friends, I’m probably one of the only one that’s going to vote. I don’t get it, if you want something you have to be pro-active about it. When I see what’s at stake and the amount of reluctance people have to go vote, it makes me angry. 

Mehdi, 17 

Same shit, different day. Same problems, different president. Old rights, new constitution. What do you want me to say? At this point, whether you vote or not, it’s really not going to change much. If a whole revolution did not do the job, you can bet that voting won’t either. I just can’t wait to be of age to simply pack my stuff and leave for good. There’s nothing left for me here, and honestly, I don’t think there’s much for anyone anyway. If I want somewhat of a good future, it’s definitely going to have to be far away from Tunisia. 

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