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 U.S. Institute of Peace began working in Tunisia in 2012 and has expanded its unique peacebuilding initiatives throughout the country. With local partners, it carries out programs that empower Tunisians to safeguard their democratic gains and reduce the lure of violent extremism. The Institute also conducts research that feeds into policy thinking while convening key leaders in the field and in Washington. USIP’s initiatives build the political, social, and economic inclusiveness at the community and national levels that is necessary for long-term success. Recent work includes:
Cultivating Community Mediators. Applying its pioneering work in local conflict resolution and violence prevention, USIP in 2014 established—and continues to support—the Alliance of Tunisian Facilitators. It include lawyers, journalists, civil society leaders, and other professionals who understand local dynamics and causes of tension, and who are trained to diagnose and resolve peacefully underlying conflicts that affect the nation’s resilience. Examples of the the Alliance’s peacebuilding work include:
- Resolving a dispute between unlicensed street vendors and local police in the market town of Kasserine by prompting the city to build a market space where vendors could freely operate. A few years earlier, it was a street vendor’s protest suicide against authoritarianism and poor living standards that sparked Tunisia’s 2011 revolution.
- Responding to tensions over residents’ arrests on terrorism charges in the volatile city of Gafsa, the Alliance convened a dialogue among local activists, journalists, and police union members. Facilitators trained 56 participants in conflict resolution and created a standing committee to help avert further violence.
- The University of Manouba near Tunis is one of Tunisia’s most prominent educational institutions, and it was the site of politically motivated student violence in 2012. To mitigate tensions between Islamist and secular student unions, USIP and the Alliance brought the groups together—resulting in a formal code of conduct that outlines shared values and provides a guide to nonviolent, ethical interaction and dispute resolution. The project involved dozens of students; 18 were trained as conflict resolution leaders who then trained their peers and continue drawing on the code of conduct to prevent violent conflict.
Supporting Community-Focused Policing. Internal security forces are on the front lines of Tunisia’s political transition. They are critical to protecting communities and democratic gains while deepening trust in elected governance after decades of authoritarian rule. To sustain Tunisia’s democratic institutions, the nation’s security forces need to become inclusive, citizen-centric, skilled in handling emerging security challenges such as violent extremism, and proactive in institutionalizing reforms.
With these objectives in mind, USIP supports the Tunisian National Police and the National Guard in updating their training curricula. The Institute oversaw a comprehensive assessment of training systems and is assisting the agencies as they transform into trusted, community-oriented entities that protect citizens and prevent violence. USIP also has convened civil society organizations to establish common goals for the future of Tunisia’s police—ensuring collaboration to defend the nation’s emerging democracy.
USIP also supports the use of its Justice and Security Dialogue method to increase trust and cooperation among Tunisian citizens and security services. The transparent, participatory process supports Tunisian citizens and security forces in jointly identifying and addressing security challenges.
Improving Regional Border Security. Across the Maghreb, USIP has worked with local and national leaders to enhance regional cooperation along borders.
In 2016, the Institute brought together ministry officials as well as front-line border guards from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia for a first-ever series of workshops to address common threats—extremists, weapons trafficking, and violence—and consider possibilities for collaborative work. The result of the exercise was a strategic action plan that was disseminated to the U.S. Department of State and the Global Counterterrorism Forum, which comprises 29 countries and the European Union.
Tunisia’s border with Libya also presents challenges due to decades of smuggling, from foodstuffs to weapons, and the violence sometimes associated with the most dangerous forms of the trade. In 2017, USIP hosted a meeting in its regional office in Tunis to increase understanding and coordination among U.S. government and international organizations on security, economic and social trends along the Tunisian-Libyan border.