Despite the degree of stability that Tunisia has achieved since its 2011 revolution, there are still obstacles to democratic consolidation, as well as unaddressed issues that threaten social and political stability—such as growing economic disparities, deepening mistrust between civil society and the government, weak local governments, and the difficult process of achieving meaningful institutional reforms.
Ongoing international support exists to bolster economic growth and employment, improve democratic governance, and further securitize borders. But more fundamental support is needed to empower community leaders to peacefully and constructively resolve conflict and governance challenges that affect stability.
Since 2014, USIP has provided support to the Alliance of Tunisian Facilitators (ATF). ATF is a network of mediators and dialogue facilitators with a solid understanding of local dynamics and drivers of conflict. USIP has assumed the role of secretariat for ATF, providing administrative, communications, and technical assistance. USIP works with ATF to support outcome-oriented community-based dialogues in response to a range of potentially destabilizing local-level conflict drivers throughout Tunisia, including natural resource governance, management of informal trade, community-police relations, competing socio-religious identities, violent extremism, and local governance.
ATF Peacebuilding Efforts
Preventing Violent Extremism Through Women Empowerment in Douar Hicher
In the marginalized community of Douar Hicher, high levels of extremist recruitment have been met with a heavy-handed security response that contributes to the community’s fragility. ATF and USIP are empowering local women to rebuild community relationships affected by foreign fighters and violent extremists. By collaborating with local authorities, the participants are working to address localized drivers of radicalization, such as poor relations with government and ineffective policing practices.
- Participants used this safe space to discuss the taboo subject of how radicalization has impacted their families and communities.
- The participants increased their confidence in speaking to those in power about state marginalization and poor living conditions.
- Participants created a women’s club in Douar Hichar called Lametna (Our Gathering) for social gathering and learning marketable skills.
- With this newfound confidence, participants are preparing to participate in two dialogue initiatives: one with the municipality to address governance issues and one with local security forces to address certain policing and collective security approaches in the community.
Peaceful Resolution of Socioeconomic-related Tensions in the Governorate of Tataouine
In early 2017, Tataouine residents organized large demonstrations to protest natural resource governance, investment, and revenue allocation practices. The demonstrations forced gas extraction operations to shut down until the government struck a deal in June 2017. ATF and USIP currently work with the key stakeholders in Tataouine—including the Kamour movement, major labor and agriculture unions, political parties, associations, businesses, and local government representatives—to collectively address the governance challenges that continue to fuel this protest movement.
- Through the implementation of facilitated community-based dialogues, ATF and USIP gained the trust of local stakeholders and helped enable them to collectively address socio-economic governance issues that are driving conflict.
- New municipal leaders learned conflict management and citizen engagement techniques to mitigate tensions and prevent violence that can destabilize the region.
- USIP and ATF have gained the trust of local actors so that when political conditions allow, continued progress can be made.
Improving Relations Between Youth and Security Forces in Medenine
ATF’s work in Medenine addresses one of the major triggers of conflict in Tunisia: the violent relationship between civilians—particularly youth—and security forces in marginalized communities. ATF brought together at-risk youth, city elders, local unions, and police to discuss the cycle of violence and create local mechanisms for communication between youth and police.
- ATF facilitators built local consensus to form a conflict mediation unit to mitigate tension and violence between police and the community and to foster collaboration in keeping communities safe.
- With ATF’s guidance, this mechanism has been formalized and has reduced conflict and prevented violence on multiple occasions, proving its efficacy and scalability.
- During the COVID-19 lockdown, this conflict mediation unit played a key role in maintaining calm in the community during the crisis and preventing violence between security forces and frustrated community members.
- The majority of youth who participated in the dialogue activities have become more proactive in civil society and more comfortable engaging with government.
Supporting Municipal Governance at the Maghrebian Market in Ben Guerdane
On the border with Libya, the town of Ben Guerdane was the site of an ISIS insurgency in 2016. USIP’s conflict analysis of Ben Guerdane revealed post-revolution policies affecting informal trade to be one of the main drivers of conflict and fragility in the area. USIP and its local partners are working with the municipal council, the governor’s office, and informal traders to complete marketplace renovations, legally recognize traders in Ben Guerdane’s main market, and develop governance practices that build confidence and reduce violent responses not only in Ben Guerdane, but across the country’s south.
- USIP and ATF helped informal vendors reach consensus on their top two priorities for their elected officials and helped them articulate these to the government.
- To draft the new contract between local government and vendors at the Maghrebian Market, ATF and the municipality led an inclusive process that involved the traders in negotiating the terms, improving the chances of a successful outcome to the dialogue.
- Following a series of ATF-led negotiations, the municipality agreed to renovate the market space and recognize vendors legally—improving governance of a key engine of local employment.
Transforming Conflict into Cooperation Between Secular and Islamist Student Unions
Student unions in Tunisian universities are the primary outlets for political activism among youth, from which many political leaders have emerged. Tunisia’s leading unions, the UGET and UGTE, have a tense relationship rooted in violent conflict and stark ideological differences. Since 2011, two unsuccessful attempts were made by the Ministry of Higher Education to reconcile the two student unions. Starting in 2015, USIP supported the ATF in designing and implementing a pilot dialogue between UGTE and UGET at the Higher Institute of Accounting and Management at the University of Manouba. The results were groundbreaking:
- The representatives of both unions collaborated for over two years to discuss their differences, common challenges they faced in the universities, and a framework of cooperation.
- With guidance from ATF, they developed a code of conduct which outlined the ethics and values of nonviolence. The university adopted this document as the official code of conduct for all newly enrolled students.
- There were active efforts to prevent violence during the 2017 student union elections, as well as the institutionalization of a peace club with a mandate that serves both the unions and all students as a conflict prevention mechanism.
- The Ministry of Higher Education adopted this model into the national reform strategy in 2018, mainstreaming the code of conduct and conflict resolution as a key theme in the ministry draft strategy.