Tunisia Discussion: Ten Years After the Uprising: How can Tunisia’s Democracy Deliver?

Discussion date: April 6 and 7, 2021

Partners: Solidar Tunisie, Solidarity Center, the Jasmine Foundation, Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), Tunisian Institute for Training for Elected Public Offices, International Republican Institute (IRI), Tunisian Youth Leaders, and National Democratic Institute (NDI)

2021 marks the tenth anniversary of the Arab Spring: popular uprisings that spread across the Middle East and North Africa demanding democracy and respect for freedoms. Tunisia is the only Arab country that has succeeded in building a democracy since 2011.  Despite progress in the areas of political representation and human rights, Tunisia’s economy has struggled to achieve satisfactory growth, and citizens are still seeking economic opportunities, dignity, equality, and social justice. These aspirations can be furthered through social and economic development that benefits all Tunisians. Working with eight Tunisian and international partners, the World Movement for Democracy convened a two-day Tunisia national meeting to discuss how the national and sub-national governments, civil society groups and businesses can work together to grow the economy, create jobs, enhance income security, and strengthen social justice.

Day 1: “Ten Years After the Uprising: Socioeconomic Development at the Local & National Level”

The first-day discussion focused on how national and local level governments, civil society groups, and private businesses can work together to grow Tunisia’s economy and protect its people’s hard-won freedoms.

In her opening remarks, Lobna Jeribi of Solidar Tunisie stressed the importance of open dialogue among sectors of society. She said “while progress at the political level is evident, it has not been matched by similar progress neither at the economic nor the social level. The structural problems, such as unemployment and regional disparities, for which young people protested during the 2011 revolution, have worsened in the last 10 years. Now, with additional difficulties encountered during the Covid-19 pandemic, it makes the current situation dangerous, a danger that could even impact the democratic transition in Tunisia.” The panel broadly agreed that administrative reform of the government is urgently needed to break out of the current economic crisis while addressing the Covid pandemic.

The second session, led by the Jasmine Foundation and CIPE, examined how to involve youth groups, civil society members, and private sector stakeholders at the local level in order for the democracy transition to succeed in Tunisia and for the economy to prosper. During the discussion, Tasnim Chichri of the Jasmine Foundation and Ali Ayed of CIPE described the challenges facing Tunisian decentralization efforts and underlined the importance of working with regional populations and supporting regional visions of growth and development.

Day 2: “Combatting Corruption & Safeguarding Freedoms through Advocacy”

The second day’s discussion was opened by Asma Ghachem of the Tunisian Institute for the Training of Elected Officials who explained that reducing corruption and lowering barriers to youth participation in governance are urgent issues. To illustrate that, the Tunisian Institute screened a short film it produced, which included testimonials from citizens who personally experienced corruption. Ghachem noted “Democracy is achieved by civil society activism and cooperation between officials and citizens.”

Djordje Todorovic of IRI presented a poll of Tunisian’s views on their political system. The poll’s results are the second worst since the IRI started polling in the country and showed that Tunisians feel pessimistic because they realized that most of their concerns and priorities were never met. Todorovic also presented data indicating Tunisians think that economic reform and fighting corruption are connected and that doing so should be a priority for the government.

The final session, led by the Tunisian Youth Leaders and NDI, focused on youth inclusion in governance and explored ways for youth to help strengthen the rule of law through advocacy. Tunisian youth activists, such as Mohammad bin Hamida and young MP Zied Ghanney, highlighted what they called the “oppressed” reality of youth in Tunisia and how young people are excluded from governance discussions. To that point, Chokri Hamda, a representative of Tunisia’s Ministry of Health, argued the importance of creating opportunities for youth employment and securing a safe space for young people in which they can express themselves.

Watch a short documentary made in relation to this discussion here: