Considering the origins of the Tunisian revolution, such statements are a travesty. Bouazizi died because he demanded freedom of economic initiative. It was precisely a lack of freedom of enterprise that stifled Bouazizi — just like the vast majority of Tunisians.
Close to 95 percent of Tunisia’s economic landscape consists of microenterprises. These face formidable barriers to entry and growth. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business report, starting a business has become more difficult compared with previous years. Obtaining a simple construction permit requires 94 days and costs close to 256 percent of average annual income in the country. Tunisia also ranks 109th in the world in the access of its entrepreneurs to credit.
The reason why the Mediterranean tradition of entrepreneurship and economic freedom has not been translated into institutions and policies facilitating free enterprise is simple. Open markets would threaten the sectors that have been nationalized in the past and in which the government and its cronies enjoy monopoly privileges and other forms of government protection. Ben Ali’s Tunisia was characterized by a system of cronyism and clientelism. Today, some patrons are perhaps being swapped for others, but the underlying logic of a small elite living at the expense of the general public remains unchanged.
The failure of the “freedom to work” amendment risks compromising one of the last chances that Tunisia has to uphold the message of the events of the Arab Spring. Its critics are mistaken if they think that the amendment would somehow transform Tunisia into a country of 19th‐century unfettered capitalism. The amendment, for example, would not prevent the right to strike, as some have claimed, since the latter is also guaranteed by the constitution.
While Tunisia is seeking international aid and foreign investment to finance its economic growth, the anti‐business attitudes prevailing in its political arena are sending a very bad signal about the country’s direction. If Tunisia’s policymakers fail to grasp that development requires enterprise and economic initiative, the country’s credibility among international donors and potential investors will be damaged. More seriously, by refusing to stand up for economic freedom, the Constituent Assembly has betrayed exactly what Mohamed Bouazizi fought — and died — for.