Since 2014, USIP has developed and supported the Coalition of Tunisian Facilitators (TCF). The TCF is a community of peacebuilders with a strong understanding of local and national dynamics and drivers of conflict. USIP strategically manages the TCF by providing programmatic guidance, technical assistance, funding, and capacity-building.
USIP works with the group to support outcome-oriented, community-based dialogues and inclusive governance initiatives in response to a range of potentially destabilizing local and national conflict drivers throughout Tunisia. These areas of focus include natural resource governance, informal trade, community-police relations, competing socio-religious identities, environmental issues, violent extremism, local governance, and border tensions.
TCF peacebuilding efforts include:
Preventing Violent Extremism Through Women Empowerment in Douar Hicher
In this marginalized community, a heavy-handed response by the security forces to high levels of extremist recruitment has contributed to the community’s fragility. The TCF and USIP empower local women to rebuild community relationships in the aftermath of the violent crackdown on violent extremism. By collaborating with authorities and security forces, the participants work to address drivers of radicalization, such as poor relations with the government, weak service delivery, and ineffective policing practices.
- Participants, including family members of foreign fighters, used Lammetna, a social club for women created by USIP, as a safe space to discuss how radicalization and counter-terrorism policies have impacted their communities.
- Participants, including family members of foreign fighters, have used their newly gained knowledge, skills, and leadership positions to begin addressing social stigma and advocate for social cohesion.
- Participants are using soft skills acquired to improve their socio-economic situation by opening small businesses.
- Participants identify causes of violence and extremism in their community and begin to address them.
- Participants are using their newly acquired dialogue and communication skills to coordinate and collaborate with local security forces to improve policing and collective security approaches in the community.
Improving Relations between Youth and Security Forces in Medenine
The TCF’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. In 2018, TCF members 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. In 2020, TCF community dialogue efforts in Medenine led to the establishment of a Conflict Mediation Unit (CMU) composed of trained members of the security forces and youth representatives. The CMU has played an important role mitigating emerging security tensions and preventing corruption, abuse of power, and confrontational behaviors.
- Confrontational youth who participated in the community dialogues became active and constructive activists who are confident and able to engage with the local government.
- Security officers who participated in USIP trainings and community dialogues have become reform and public service-oriented actors who are positively influencing their peers in the security sector.
- Youth and security actors formed the Conflict Mediation Unit (CMU), a security community peacebuilding and mediation group to prevent and address security community tensions.
- During the Covid lockdown, CMU played a key role in maintaining calm and security while raising awareness of sanitary measures in the community.
- Security officers from the CMU became confident and capable of preventing acts of bribery within the local police force demonstrating their positive role in combating corruption and impunity.
- The success of the CMU experience inspired security officers in other southern regions in Tunisia to replicate the experience in their hometowns.
Addressing Tensions Related to the Informal Economy in the Maghrebian Market
In 2016, an ISIS insurgency broke out in the Libyan border town of Ben Guerdane. USIP’s conflict analysis of Ben Guerdane revealed that post-revolution policies affecting informal trade drove conflict and vulnerability to extremist practices and criminality in the area. In 2017-2018, the TCF worked with community-based organizations and an informal vendors association to identify the vendors’ top priorities for the local government and the newly elected municipal council. The TCF supported advocacy efforts to communicate these priorities at the local, regional, and national level and assessed the challenges impeding the formalization of the vendors’ status in the market. The TCF mediated between the vendors and the municipality to negotiate a contract through which the vendors will pay a monthly fee in exchange for legal recognition and the provision of basic infrastructure from the municipal government and which will formally recognize the vendors at the Maghrebian Market, providing key legal protections and rights. Additionally, TCF mediators in Ben Guerdane played a key role during the COVID-19 lockdown to mobilize civil society to prevent violence between police and citizens.
- The municipality of Ben Guerdane used new knowledge and skills gained through USIP’s coaching and mentorship, to improve its communication towards informal vendors and citizens, addressing misinformation and preventing border and informal trade tensions.
- The municipality of Ben Guerdane used technical expertise and best practices provided by USIP, to seek public funding to improve local governance projects.
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.
Drivers of Conflict on the Tunisian-Libyan Border
Since 2011, informal trade and smuggling on the Tunisian-Libyan border has surged and become more complex, constituting the main business activity for youth and influential businessmen alike in southern Tunisia. However, following an ISIS attack in Ben Guerdane in 2016, the Tunisian government has securitized the border to combat external terrorist threats. Terrorism and COVID-19 destabilized border crossings and border trade, which resulted in further socio-economic vulnerability and tensions.
USIP engages with border stakeholders to better understand vulnerabilities to extremism and informal trade. In 2018, the TCF led an informal conflict assessment of the Ras Jedir border crossing with civil society, traders, political actors, local government, and border authorities. In 2020, USIP-Tunisia and Libya launched a research project that builds on the previous conflict assessment conducted by TCF members and provides a more comprehensive understanding of fragility, conflict, and opportunities for programming in the Tunisian and Libyan border region. The research project, implemented in partnership with UN Women and WFP, focuses on identifying the drivers of conflict and instability at the Tunisian-Libyan Borders.
- The border research informed USIP’s future programming on the Libyan-Tunisian borders.
- The research findings informed national and local partners in Tunisia, such as the security forces, the municipality, and local associations in Ben Guerdane.