It turns out that starting a revolution in the age of social media is a full time occupation. After bringing down their government, launching dozens of new television and radio stations and about 70 new political parties and posting endless leaked documents on Facebook all the while working on rewriting their constitution, many Tunisians are now busy speaking at conferences, answering questions from journalists and politely agreeing to meet the endless flood of people coming to their country to learn more about the revolution.
Recent arrivals include Felipe Gonzalez, who led Spain in the tumultuous years after Franco died, and Lech Walesa, the trade union activist who went on a pro-democracy mission with a delegation from Poland’s foreign ministry to Tunisia in late April. They are excited to see someone else go through the transition they lived through in their own countries, and pass on some lessons they learned.
This week we were generously hosted by this nation that has been through an unimaginable upheaval and is still not at all sure where it will lead. The woman in the government who planned our visit was formerly a banker in New York. She is now working pro bono for the government. We met other Tunisians who dropped everything overseas and moved back home to do their part in building a new country.
It’s overwhelming. Conspiracy theories, anxiety, optimism, a million different explanations of what actually happened, a million different forecasts of how things will turn out. People can’t stop talking, explaining, describing, predicting.
Here is what we saw and heard in Tunis: a country engaged in an active debate about the meaning of democracy, good governance and how to achieve it. A flourishing press that journalists say is badly in need of training in how to handle a freer environment than they ever knew before. A thriving civil society. A country newly discovering problems that had been long hidden — pockets of poverty (still small by international standards — less than 4% at the absolute poverty standard) and a resolution to remove this blight, with the help of the World Bank and the African Development Bank, even as a new democracy is created.