On September 22nd, on the margins of the 66th United Nations General Assembly in New York, the U.S. and Tunisian governments signed the Joint Political and Economic Partnership (JPEP). As I reflect on the remarkable events that led to the Tunisian revolution, it is clear that the voices of workers and youth everywhere must continue to be heard. Secretary Clinton’s signing of this strategic partnership symbolizes the solidarity that the American people feel with Tunisians as well as with people struggling for democracy in the region and beyond.
It has been less than a year since the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor, who felt powerless to feed his family, started in motion the dramatic events of the “Arab Spring.” While the causes of the revolutions are numerous – rising food prices, youth unemployment, political oppression, and the struggle to provide basic necessities for loved ones – the people’s call for basic dignity could no longer be repressed.
During the Tunisian revolution, the voice of workers, demonstrating on the streets, helped force out the old regime and usher in a new transitional government. The people, exercising their newly found right to freedom of assembly, have demanded that the transitional government be accountable to the Tunisian people. The right to associate – a basic human right – is at the core of any democracy. On October 23rd, Tunisians will exercise another fundamental right – the right to vote in democratic elections, in this case for Constituent Assembly.
It is clear that respect for human rights and sustainable democracies are most effectively built on a strong foundation of social and economic inclusion. As Secretary Clinton has said:
“We cannot build a stable, global economy when hundreds of millions of workers and families find themselves on the wrong side of globalization, cut off from markets and out of reach of modern technologies…And we cannot advance democracy and human rights when hunger and poverty threaten to undermine the good governance and rule of law needed to make those rights real.”
Tunisians understand this as they endeavor to build an inclusive democracy and claim the right of all Tunisians to have a voice in how they are governed and in how they live their lives. The people of the United States stand with Tunisians as they take this important step to strengthen their democracy.