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  • Author: Zied Boussen, Mohammed Islam Mbarki
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Tunisian youth are no different from their peers across the world when it comes to their indifference to public life. This apathy towards politics is not new; it goes back before 14 January Revolution. A 2008 national survey of youth showed that around 83% of Tunisian youth were not concerned with politics and 64% were not concerned with elections or joining civil society associations. Nonetheless, the Tunisian youth surprised observers and played an essential role in the revolution that led to the fall of Ben Ali. Immediately after, however, they returned to their position of indifference. The political tensions and episodes of instability that accompanied the democratic transition disappointed the youth greatly and led to apathy towards politics in all its forms. Successive elections were the most glaring example of this attitude: the youth abandoned the ballots and stopped taking initiatives of political work, either as candidates or as voters. The rise of Kais Saied as a presidential candidate seemed to have reignited the Tunisian youth’s interest in politics. They walked with him through all the stages of his elections. They led his most unusual campaign at the smallest cost; they confronted media attacks against him and provided him with alternative and new media platforms that improved his image. This support brought the youth and Kais Saied closer together. Saied also showed great understanding of the youth’s economic and social demands and gave them priority. He shared their anger at the political establishment, so they decided to stand by him to punish the establishment that they see as the source of their successive disappointments. The results of the presidential elections, in which one candidate won the bulk of the votes of the youth participating in the elections, generated many questions about the reasons for the youth’s support of Kais Saied, and the hopes that they hanged on him. What can we infer from this experience that can benefit the youth political participation generally? How does this experience help us understand the actual needs that push young people to participate in public life?
  • Topic: Political Activism, Elections, Youth, Participation
  • Political Geography: Africa, Tunisia
  • Author: Intissar Kherigi
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: An account of the Arab uprisings of the last decade would be incomplete without an understanding of regional inequalities. While each country’s protests were driven by a distinct combination of grievances, a common factor has been the marginalisation of “peripheries”. The Sidi Bouzid region of Tunisia from which the Arab Spring started is a region rich in agricultural resources yet poor in infrastructure and economic opportunities. Its connection rate to running water is half the national average. A similar story can be seen across the flashpoints of unrest in the Arab world, a story of widening urban-rural divides, uneven regional development and political and economic exclusion of entire regions. Can decentralisation address these grievances? Since the 1980s, decentralisation has been championed as a driver for both democratisation and development, promising to empower regions, granting them political representation and enabling them to create their own economic strategies. However, a key fear among many, from politicians and bureaucrats to ordinary citizens, is that decentralisation is a means for the central state to withdraw from its traditional functions and transfer responsibility for service provision to under-resourced and over-burdened local government. Yet, the demands for freedom, dignity and social justice voiced by the Arab uprisings require the central state to be more present in peripheries, not less. Can decentralisation help achieve greater local development in peripheral regions without allowing the central state to withdraw from its obligations to citizens? Is it even possible to envisage new forms of local development within the framework of highly centralised Arab states? How can Arab states reconfigure their relations with local communities in the context of severe political and economic crises? This article explores these questions in the Tunisian context, where a major decentralisation process is taking place in response to demands for inclusion and development. It argues that in order to produce new modes of local development in peripheries, central state institutions need to fundamentally reform the way they function.
  • Topic: Inequality, Arab Spring, Decentralization , Bureaucracy
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Tunisia, Tunis
  • Author: Eya Jrad
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: With COVID-19, Tunisia is dealing with an unprecedented emergency that is testing its newly established democratic institutions. This paper explores how Tunisia’s different institutions have responded so far to the crisis, and sheds light on how each is trying to assert its role under the exceptional circumstances imposed by the pandemic.
  • Topic: Governance, Public Health, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Africa, Tunisia
  • Author: Salma Houerbi
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The consequences of Covid-19 on Tunisia’s already fragile economy are bound to exacerbate existing social tensions. The government has rolled out a series of socio-economic measures to support individual entrepreneurs and businesses to maintain jobs and incomes across all sectors. This paper argues that the government’s support to the private sector represents a golden opportunity to rectify longstanding problems in state-business relations and institute a culture of corporate accountability. But to do so, the government should place the Covid-19 response within a broader effort to address the persistent and systemic challenges the country faces from corruption to rent-seeking to vulnerable workers’ conditions.
  • Topic: Public Health, Humanitarian Crisis, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Africa, Tunisia
  • Author: Zied Boussen
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: After months of negotiation, Tunisia’s parliament voted in a government like no other since 2011. Headed by a prime minister whose party is not represented in parliament and with more than half of the ministers independent or new to government office, it is the first since 2011 that is not a “national unity” government. This paper examines this new Tunisian political landscape, the relationship between the prime minister and Tunisia’s president, and looks at the impact of this configuration on the ability of the new government to carry out long-awaited reforms.
  • Topic: Governance, Reform, Political stability, Transition
  • Political Geography: Africa, Tunisia
  • Author: Alessandra Bajec
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Despite being rich in oil and gas, Tataouine in the south of Tunisia has remained severely underdeveloped and marginalized, pushing its inhabitants, time and again, to protest for reinvestment of its wealth in infrastructure and local jobs. This paper examines the underlying drivers of the ongoing unrest in Tataouine, the heavy-handed response of the security forces, and the successive Tunisian governments’ broken pledges to address the region’s socio-economic marginalization.
  • Topic: Governance, Accountability, Marginalization, Socioeconomics , Civil Unrest
  • Political Geography: Africa, Tunisia
  • Author: Afef Hammami Marrakchi
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: What role can local authorities in Tunisia play as part of the country’s response to Covid-19? This paper examines the opportunities offered to Tunisian municipalities (communes) by the Local Government Act but also the real constraints – human, logistical, and financial – that these new devolved structures face as they seek to play a key role in the recovery.
  • Topic: Recovery, Public Health, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Africa, Tunisia
  • Author: Alessandra Bajec
  • Publication Date: 11-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Tunisian women in rural areas have played a vital role in maintaining food security during the coronavirus pandemic but continue to suffer exploitation and exclusion. While their working conditions are already known for being dire, the public health crisis has compounded their economic and social insecurity. This paper discusses the systemic exploitative treatment of female agricultural workers, the state’s inability so far to protect them, and how local NGOs are helping to improve their lives.
  • Topic: Gender Issues, Women, Rural, Public Health, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Africa, Tunisia
  • Author: Lotfi Tarchouna
  • Publication Date: 07-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: In order for decentralization to be effective and lead to greater equality in development and political engagement, both processes of codification (i.e. enshrining provisions in the constitution) and operationalization must be guided by strong legal and political foundations, principles and structures. The paper discusses the Tunisian experience of decentralization since the adoption of the 2014 Constitution that described the Tunisian state as a unitary state and enshrined administrative decentralization, thus consolidating the Tunisian decentralized state. It argues that after the fall of Ben Ali, decentralization was seen as a way to preserve the integrity of the unitary state in Tunisia while introducing instruments of participative democracy through a reinvigorated decentralization process. First, it presents the legal and political foundations for decentralization and the new structures that were set up to implement it. Second, the paper addresses the fiscal and logistical challenges of implementation, the importance of collective civil society engagement in decentralized structures and concludes with recommendations and lessons learned from this experience in a country that recently experienced democratic transition.
  • Topic: Democracy, State Building, Decentralization , Engagement
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Tunisia, Mediterranean, Tunis
  • Author: Souha Drissi
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: With the death of President Beji Caid Essebsi on 25 July, Tunisia’s presidential elections were moved up and will be held on 15 September 2019. By the end of the eight-day process of accepting nominations – from 2 to 9 August – the Independent High Authority for Elections (IHAE) had received 971 requests for nomination which include 75 independents and 11 female candidates. On 31 August, the IHAE released the final list of candidates for the presidential race, accepting 26 nominees, including two women, and rejecting 71 applications for failing to meet candidacy requirements. The IHAE is considered one of the achievements of the 2011 Revolution. It is a nine-member permanent body based in Tunis which enjoys administrative and financial independence. Its mission is to “ensure democratic, pluralistic, fair and transparent elections and referendums”2 and supervise and oversee all related processes. The election campaigns started on 2 September and will continue until 13 September, with 17 September as the deadline for the announcement of the preliminary election results and 21 October for the announcement of the final results. In case of no absolute majority vote, a second round will be held after two weeks.3
  • Topic: Politics, Elections, Democracy, State Building
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Tunisia, Tunis
  • Author: Souha Drissi
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: With the death of President Beji Caid Essebsi on 25 July, Tunisia’s presidential elections were moved up and will be held on 15 September 2019. By the end of the eight-day process of accepting nominations – from 2 to 9 August – the Independent High Authority for Elections (IHAE) had received 971 requests for nomination which include 75 independents and 11 female candidates. On 31 August, the IHAE released the final list of candidates for the presidential race, accepting 26 nominees, including two women, and rejecting 71 applications for failing to meet candidacy requirements. The IHAE is considered one of the achievements of the 2011 Revolution. It is a nine-member permanent body based in Tunis which enjoys administrative and financial independence. Its mission is to “ensure democratic, pluralistic, fair and transparent elections and referendums”2 and supervise and oversee all related processes. The election campaigns started on 2 September and will continue until 13 September, with 17 September as the deadline for the announcement of the preliminary election results and 21 October for the announcement of the final results. In case of no absolute majority vote, a second round will be held after two weeks.3
  • Topic: Politics, Elections, Democracy, State Building
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Tunisia, Tunis
  • Author: Ishac Diwan
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: During its first years of transition to a democratic order, Tunisia's efforts were predominantly focused on addressing political challenges. The performance of the country in this regard has been generally positive, as it has managed to consolidate democratic gains despite challenges related to the polarization of politics around identity and religious issues, the rise in insecurity related to attacks by extremist groups, and even the general disenchantment of voters for the existing political elites. However, the gains on the political front came at the expense of economic setbacks. One of the main challenges for the coming period will thus be largely economic. High unemployment, unfulfilled demands for social justice, the rise in corruption, and most importantly in the short term, an unsustainable macroeconomic trajectory, all threaten to upset recent political gains. If the upcoming administration does not address them, social discontent would endanger the hard-won democratic gains.
  • Topic: Religion, Social Movement, Democracy, Economic Policy
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Tunisia, Mediterranean, Tunis
  • Author: Hatem Chakroun
  • Publication Date: 01-2018
  • Content Type: Research Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The interaction between Tunisian human rights organizations and movements struggling for economic and social rights present the former with hard questions and important challenges. Human rights actors need to scrutinize their role and tactics to decide whether they would remain in the fast eroding mediation level (between the movements and the state) or they could explore other avenues that can address the complex issues of representation and brokerage between human rights defenders and the bearers of these very rights who are busy developing new ways of defending themselves.
  • Topic: Human Rights, International Political Economy
  • Political Geography: Tunisia
  • Author: Hatem Chakroun
  • Publication Date: 05-2018
  • Content Type: Research Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: This paper seeks to describe and analyse in a contextual way how the relationship between human rights organizations and the State in Tunisia has evolved since independence. The establishment and consolidation of national State institutions after independence was the main obsession of the ruling political network in Tunisia. This dictated its antagonistic position and measures against pluralism and inclusion of various political groups, all of which had been once unified in the anticolonial struggle. After independence, this common objective disappeared and differences materialized regarding which political system and policies to adopt in order to building a modern nation-state in Tunisia. The consolidated regime of President Habib Bourguiba succeeded in imposing an authoritarian single-party political system, whose “legitimacy” rested on the anticolonial struggle, that controlled the state, to which all had to show loyalty. The autocratic political system continued after 1987 with the reign of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who presented a retooled authoritarian political vision. The human rights community represented by the Tunisian League for the Defence of Human Rights came under pressure as the State attempted to coerce it into adopting a tailored vision of human rights compatible with the logic of a dictatorship. Ben Ali regime had also set up a façade of commitment to human rights as expressed in various laws, about which he boasted on all occasions and political events with total disregard for systematic violations by repressive state bodies. After the fall of Ben Ali following a popular uprising that rejected repression and authoritarianism and expressed a popular longing for freedom and dignity, a new vision began to form of the relationship between the State and the human rights community in Tunisia. The starting point was very positive with long time human rights activists playing a central role in the process of establishing a vision for the new republic based on respect for the principles of human rights. However, the political contention among various political factions and higher state echelons, fuelled by varying ideologies and interests, has affected this relationship, which oscillated between harmony and dissonance.
  • Topic: Human Rights, Social Movement, Protests, NGOs
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Tunisia
  • Author: Afifa Mannai
  • Publication Date: 07-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: This paper addresses the role of the human rights movement in Tunisia in influencing state legislations and practices. It also attempts to tackle a shift from largely monitoring and denouncing rights violations prior to the January 2011 revolution to participating in drafting bills and lobbying for policy reforms that could reduce these violations. The human rights movement was not isolated from what Tunisia experienced in the years following the 2011 revolution, which resulted in massive realignments of social and political structures and practices with a heightened awareness of the importance of human rights and the need to continue the struggle to demand and enjoy them. This new climate witnessed a change not only in terms of the scope of the demands put forth by the human rights movement but also regarding the means and mechanisms it used to achieve these demands, which at times succeeded but ended in failure some other times.
  • Topic: Human Rights, United Nations, Social Movement, Revolution
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Tunisia
  • Author: Asma Nouira
  • Publication Date: 07-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The voting system adopted in municipal elections has produced mosaic municipal councils where no one has an absolute majority, reflecting the situation in parliament. This will require forming coalitions and negotiating to create new agreements. But unlike the parliament, coalitions on the local level will not necessarily follow the logic of party alliances. Negotiations among the winning 8 Tunisia’s Local Elections: Entrenching Democratic Practices formations have already started in preparation for the election of presidents of municipal councils. In this context, the controversy over the presidency of the Tunis municipality has arisen between Ennahdha’s candidate Souad Abderrahim and Kamal Eidir from Nidaa Tounes. These elections are important to the winning major parties as they bring them closer to the average citizen on the local level, helping them improve their image and win the confidence of citizens in preparation for the upcoming legislative elections. They are equally important for the average citizen considering that they focus on the foundations of local democracy. What happens in these councils will reflect either positively or negatively on the project to enhance local authority, as well as the services this new system is supposed to provide to citizens.
  • Topic: Gender Issues, Elections, Geopolitics, Negotiation
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Tunisia, Tunis
  • Author: Mohamed Sahbi Khalfaoui
  • Publication Date: 09-2018
  • Content Type: Research Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: How can we understand the relation of political Islam in Tunisia with the human rights system in its indivisibility and universality? Since the establishment of the Tunisian Islamic Movement in the early seventies, it has worked extensively to articulate public positions addressing issues of human rights and freedoms. This relationship sprang from a dual position which juxtaposed full hostility to personal freedoms such as sexual rights and a relatively positive interaction with public freedoms. Then came the deliberations and process of ratification of the 2014 Constitution which was special in its emphasis on equality between women and men, freedom of belief, and criminalization of accusation of blasphemy. The repression of Islamists in Tunisia in the 1980s and 1990s was the most important factor that defined their position, views, and engagement with human rights principles. After the fall of former Tunisian President Zine El Abedine Ben Ali in 2011, the return of the Islamist Ennahda (Renaissance) Movement to public activity was one of the most important features of the new political phase in the country. The Tunisian society was split between supporters and opponents of such a development. With the return of Ennahda and the emergence of other Islamist groups, especially the Salafis, the debate resumed over the position of Islamists towards human rights. While they attempted to include Islamic law (Sharia) as the main source of legislation in the constitution, Islamists continued to declare their belief in human rights principles. Some analysts were optimistic concerning a transformation in the Islamist ideology, while others insisted that Islamists were duplicitous, waiting until they are empowered enough to impose their project, which is inherently hostile to human rights. This paper is an attempt to review the Islamists’ positions on human rights and how they changed over time.
  • Topic: Human Rights, Islam, Constitution, Islamism
  • Political Geography: Africa, North Africa, Tunisia, Mediterranean, Tunis
  • Author: Hafedh Chekir
  • Publication Date: 12-2017
  • Content Type: Research Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: ARI's project on the Future of Human Rights Action in North Africa continues to explore the governance challenges and moves in this paper to Tunisia where prominent feminist, academic and human rights defender Hafidha Chekir explores the legal environment of civil society organizations in Tunisia and how this affected their own internal governance.
  • Topic: Human Rights, Governance
  • Political Geography: Tunisia
  • Author: Belhassen Ennouri
  • Publication Date: 10-2017
  • Content Type: Research Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The field of democratization studies is interested by the transformation of political systems from authoritarian regimes to another type of political system that cannot be pre-determined. This study has emerged in the context the so-called third wave of democratization that began with the Spanish and Portuguese experiences in the 1970s, and then spread to Latin America in the 1980s, sweeping Eastern Europe in the 1990s. Indeed, the success of the Spanish experience in democratization has rendered the case a useful model for studying other cases. The study of the democratic transition – itself an experimental process – has moved from investigating historical experiences to developing a theoretical framework that involves a procedural and practical approach to understanding the instability and volatility of the phenomenon. The study of the democratic transition has been criticized, despite important contributions on the part of researchers. To this point, the notion of a “theory of transition” is at the heart of critical scientific debate.
  • Topic: International Affairs, Democracy
  • Political Geography: Tunisia
  • Author: Asma Nouira
  • Publication Date: 09-2017
  • Content Type: Research Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: This is the third and last survey paper on the evolution and challenges of Human Rights Action in North Africa. It is focused on the evolution and challenges of the human rights movement in Tunisia. The first organized group was the Tunisian League for the Defence of Human Rights in 1977 (Ligue Tunisienne de la Défense des Droits de l’Homme, LTDH). The LTDH remained the only organization active in the field of human rights throughout the first decade of the history of the Tunisian human rights movement. Since its inception, the LTDH has acted as a refuge for political activists of various ideological and political backgrounds, sometimes resulting in conflating political and rights’ activism, despite attempts by the founders to separate the two fields
  • Topic: Human Rights
  • Political Geography: Tunisia