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World Update

Spring's Hope Fades

Following Tunisia's first democratic presidential election in October, voters are preparing to go back to the polls to pick between the two top candidates in a runoff. The winner, they hope, can finally bring prosperity and stability to the North African nation that sparked the Arab Spring. NHK WORLD's Atsutoshi Nishikawa has more.

Four years ago, a man in a central Tunisian city triggered a movement that toppled the nation's dictatorship when he set himself on fire in protest against police harassment. His death led to calls for democracy all across the Arab world.

But now many Tunisians have mixed feelings about the Arab Spring.

One is 27-year-old Wala Kasmi, who was a university student at the time of the uprising. She spent many days protesting against the regime of President Ben Ali, believing that his ouster would end chronic corruption and high unemployment.

"At the time, I thought if we got rid of the dictatorship, everything would get better," Wala said.

Indeed, since the collapse of the dictatorship in 2011, the process of establishing a democracy has moved steadily forward. In January, the provisional government enacted a new constitution, guaranteeing religious freedom and equality of the sexes.

But the economy has stagnated since the revolution. Tourism has not recovered to previous levels. Foreign investment is declining. And food prices are now 50 percent higher than before the Arab Spring.

More than 30 percent of young Tunisians are unemployed. An increasing number of them sympathize with the extremist Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq.

After Wala graduated, she joined an NGO promoting democracy. She had high hopes for the changes the Arab Spring promised to bring. But now she feels betrayed.

"Socially, economically, and psychologically, the young people of this country have been driven to the wall," she said. "Some are in such despair, they are committing suicide."

One of the candidates in the runoff election is Caid Essebsi, who held a top post in the former regime. Wala is alarmed that so many people are giving him such strong support - among them her own father, who believes Essebsi has the knowhow to run the country.

"Tunisia is in a period of transition, and we need someone with knowledge and experience," Wala's father said.

Wala has set up a website to share information about the election. She wants young people to stay informed about the candidates' policies.

"The Arab Spring has disappeared. It no longer exists," Wala said. "The important thing now is to keep making progress in Tunisia, as it is today. Our present efforts will determine whether we have really been successful."

The challenge facing Tunisia's next government will be to try to restore the hope born in the Arab Spring.

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