Democratizing Under Fire: Can Tunisia Show the Way?

Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi on Balancing Democracy and Security in North Africa

As Tunisia struggles to build a stable democracy from its 2011 Arab Spring revolution, it must overcome terrorist attacks, high unemployment, a refugee crisis and the threat of social turmoil. The stakes are region-wide, as Tunisia remains the only one of five Arab Spring countries to be treading a non-violent, democratic path. A critical figure in Tunisia’s evolution—Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the Islamist movement Nahda—visited USIP, together with the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, on October 28 to discuss how his country can consolidate its progress.

Tunisia’s success or failure in building a peaceful democracy is central to U.S. and international interests in a stable North Africa, Middle East and Arab world—an importance recognized this month by the award of the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize to key mediators in the country’s political struggle. After two attacks by militant gunmen killed scores of people and crimped the country’s vital tourist economy this year, the government imposed a state of emergency—a step that raised fears among many Tunisians about a return to the country’s decades of authoritarian, police-enforced rule.

Disillusion among young Tunisians has made the country one of the biggest recruiting grounds for violent militant groups such as ISIS. As Tunisian youth circulate to battlefields in the Middle East—and as this nation of 11 million people hosts one million or more refugees from the civil war in neighboring Libya—how can Tunisia manage its borders, improve its security, prevent violence, and also strengthen democratic politics?

In discussing these questions, Sheikh Ghannouchi is a vital voice. His movement, Nahda, led the first post-revolution government, which wrote the country’s new, more democratic, constitution. It is now a coalition partner in the secularist government led by President Beji Caid Essebsi. Sheikh Ghannouchi delivered remarks on the challenges facing his homeland and its region. He then joined Ambassador William Taylor and author Robin Wright in a discussion that included questions from the audience and social media. Continue the conversation on Twitter with #USIPTunisia.

Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi
President , Ennahda Movement
Robin Wright
Distinguished Scholar, United States Institute of Peace
William Taylor, Moderator
Executive Vice President, United States Institute of Peace