The U.S. Institute of Peace asked our Mike Yaffe and the American Enterprise Institute’s Emily Estelle for their insights on confronting the terrorist threat in Libya and Tunisia and addressing governance challenges in the two North African nations.
It has been over seven years since Mohamed Bouazizi’s protest sparked an uprising that led to the overthrow of longtime Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and spread throughout the Middle East. While the promise of the early days of the Arab uprising has evaporated throughout much of the region, Tunisia has continued its democratic transition in the face of economic and security challenges.
As Tunisia last month celebrated the 2011 overthrow of its dictatorship, thousands of young Tunisians protested in streets nationwide, often clashing with police. Young Tunisians widely voice an angry despair at being unemployed, untrained for jobs, and unable to build futures for themselves. The single democracy to have arisen from the Arab Spring uprisings is undermined by the feelings of hopelessness among many youth, and by their exploitation by extremist groups linked to ISIS and al-Qaida. To help Tunisian, U.S. and other efforts to build hope for Tunisia’s youth, a small, USIP-funded project is measuring which kinds of programs are actually effective.
Ambassador Bill Taylor reflects on the significance of the Arab Spring and the changes brought about by the movement, including the democratic transition in Tunisia, the major political changes in Egypt and the role of the United States in these type of events.
Amid central Tunisia’s dry farmlands, the city of Sidi Bouzid bustled one recent day under warm autumn sunshine. Street vendors and shoppers jostled under the roof of a new, open-air market, selling and buying produce or cheap clothes. Seven years after an impoverished street vendor in this city immolated himself and ignited the Arab Spring revolutions, his homeland has achieved a precarious stability. By many measures the Arab world’s only democracy, Tunisia remains hobbled by corruption, unemployment and violent extremism.
When violent conflict erupts, its roots often must be found and healed at the community level. Amid such turmoil, however, government officials, police, and community leaders are likely to mistrust each other—a breakdown in relations that opens space for security threats, including violent extremism and organized crime.
The sole fledgling democracy to arise from the Arab Spring represents an encouraging yet incomplete victory against authoritarian rule and violent extremism. Tunisia’s sustained progress since the revolution that toppled its dictatorial regime in 2011 is key to developing a strong democratic U.S. partner in this volatile region and countering radicalization and terrorism around the world. Yet economic stagnation, unemployment, political disaffection in poorer regions, and the inherent difficulties of a major political and social transition continue to threaten the country’s stability
The dividing line between the young Tunisians was evident as they gathered to attempt a dialogue between their university’s two rival student unions, groups tied to the country’s main political parties. On the right side of the room sat the Islamists, whose politics are closely bound to their religion. On the left were the secularists, adherents of an array of left-leaning ideologies.
Reviewing the literature on negotiation and civil resistance, this report examines the current divide between the two and digs deeper to identify the fundamental convergences. It builds on these findings to illustrate why negotiations and negotiation concepts are essential to the success of civil resistance campaigns. Using historical examples, it then examines the dynamics of negotiation in the context of these strategic domains.
The U.S. Institute of Peace has operated on the ground in Iraq since 2003 and in Afghanistan since 2002, as well as in Libya, Nigeria, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen. As a small, agile institution, USIP works with local leaders and the U.S. government, including the military, to stabilize areas devastated by ISIS, end cycles of revenge, and address the root causes of radicalization, including corrupt and abusive governance.