Tunisian Youth and Political Life: From Stagnation to Revival?

Zied Boussen, Mohammed Islam Mbarki
Content Type
Working Paper
Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
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?
Political Activism, Elections, Youth, Participation
Political Geography
Africa, Tunisia