As the Arab Spring’s birthplace and its sole fledgling democracy, Tunisia represents an encouraging yet incomplete victory against authoritarian rule and violent extremism. Tunisia’s progress since the revolution in 2011 makes it an important democratic partner in a volatile region. However, a persistent economic crisis, political disaffection, and the inherent difficulties of a major political and social transition continue to threaten the country’s stability. 

Elections in late 2019 swept in a new mosaic of smaller political movements reflecting the public’s deep dissatisfaction with the status quo and the stalled transition. This broad array of new parties has struggled to form a cohesive government capable of overcoming complex partisanship. 

USIP’S Work

Since 2012, USIP’s peacebuilding programs have empowered Tunisians to safeguard their democratic gains, reduce violent extremism, and address fragility. USIP fosters inclusive governance, dialogue, and security sector reform. The Institute also conducts research that informs future programs and analyzes ongoing efforts. This research is used by USIP, U.S. policymakers, and international partners to develop new interventions. From its offices in Washington, D.C. and Tunis, USIP convenes thought leaders, government officials, and international visitors.

Localized Peacebuilding Processes with National Impact

Drawing from its pioneering work in local conflict resolution and violence prevention, USIP established the Alliance of Tunisian Facilitators (ATF) in 2014. Together, USIP and ATF develop and implement field-tested peacebuilding processes in locations where local conflicts have national and international implications. The ATF includes lawyers, journalists, civil society leaders, and other professionals who understand local conflict dynamics and the causes of tension. USIP empowers these leaders to constructively and inclusively resolve underlying conflicts that affect the community’s and nation’s stability. Examples of ATF’s peacebuilding work include:

  • Douar Hichar: In this marginalized community, high levels of recruitment by extremist organizations have been met with a heavy-handed security response that is often cited as contributing to the community’s fragility. USIP and its local partners are building resiliency by empowering women from the community to reintegrate families who have been alienated due to ties with extremists, reduce social stigma, and to work with local authorities on the drivers of radicalization.
  • Medenine: ATF’s work in Medenine addresses one of the major triggers of conflict in Tunisia: the violent relationship between civilians and security forces in marginalized communities, particularly youth. USIP and ATF facilitators led a youth and police reconciliation and training process that has resulted in them coming together to form a conflict mediation unit that is actively preventing violence and improving security in Medenine.
  • Tataouine: ATF and USIP have worked with municipalities, regional authorities, major unions, political parties, and businesses to collectively address the governance challenges that led to the 2017 uprising at the Kamour oil field and that continue to drive conflict, marginalize citizens, and threaten stability.

Synergizing Nonviolent Action and Peacebuilding (SNAP)

Civil society activists are critical to Tunisia’s transition. Activists can improve their effectiveness through strategically employing a mix of nonviolent action and peacebuilding approaches. But which approaches, and in what sequence, are most effective? The SNAP program builds bridges between peacebuilding and nonviolent action practitioners in Tunisia and equips them to determine the most strategic and effective methods from both fields in order to advance justice, promote human rights, and build sustainable peace.

USIP works across Tunisia, and the capital Tunis is home to the Institute’s regional office, which implements programs, convenes

Supporting Community-Focused Policing

Internal security forces are on the front lines of Tunisia’s political transition. They are critical to protecting communities and deepening their 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 reforming their training management, pedagogical approaches, and curricula. The Institute conducted a comprehensive assessment of training systems and is providing technical assistance as they transform their training systems to develop a professional, community-oriented security service.

USIP’s Justice and Security Dialogue program works in Tunisia to build trust and cooperation among Tunisian citizens and security providers. This transparent, participatory dialogue allows Tunisian citizens and security forces to jointly identify and address local and national security challenges.

Improving Regional Border Security

Across the Maghreb, USIP has worked with leaders to enhance border security cooperation. The Institute brought together ministry officials and border guards from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia for a series of workshops to develop a strategic action plan. The final document was disseminated to the U.S. State Department and the Global Counterterrorism Forum.

Related Publications

What’s Next for Tunisia’s Transition?

What’s Next for Tunisia’s Transition?

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

By: Dr. Elie Abouaoun; Leo Siebert

Long heralded as the sole success story of the Arab uprisings, Tunisia was thrown into political tumult on July 25 when President Kais Saied dismissed the prime minister, suspended parliament and removed politicians’ immunity from criminal prosecution. The decision followed days of protest and long-term malaise, with Tunisians angered over the government’s COVID response, endemic corruption, a lagging economy and, more broadly, the inability of the post-Ben Ali political system — particularly political parties — to deliver for citizens. While many Tunisians supported Saied’s move, they and the international community await what comes next and how it will impact the North African country’s long-term political and economic trajectory.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance

Where Does Tunisia’s Transition Stand 10 Years After Ben Ali?

Where Does Tunisia’s Transition Stand 10 Years After Ben Ali?

Thursday, January 14, 2021

By: Leo Siebert

The story by now is well known. Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in December 2010 sparked an unprecedented wave of protests across Tunisia and the broader region. Less than a month later, the country’s longtime dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, fled to Saudi Arabia. That was 10 years ago today. And while Tunisia is often lauded as the “lone success story” of the uprisings that swept across the region, its democratic transition remains in limbo. A decade later, Tunisians have seen hard-won improvements in political freedoms, but a lagging economy and sclerotic politics have stunted the realization of many of the protesters’ demands—and kept them in the streets.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance

Tunisia’s Transition Hits a Rough Patch Following COVID Lockdown

Tunisia’s Transition Hits a Rough Patch Following COVID Lockdown

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

By: Leo Siebert

Since uprisings swept the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, Tunisia has long been regarded as the lone democratic success story. But nearly 10 years later, volatile party politics and authoritarian legacies continue to plague the transition. The October 2019 election cycle, marked by low voter turnout, demonstrated Tunisians deep disenchantment with the political class for its failure to address the grievances that sparked the ouster of longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. After the elections, a government was not formed until February 2020. But months later, Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh resigned over allegations of conflicts of interest. In recent weeks, the political landscape has shifted rapidly. USIP’s Leo Siebert examines the political wrangling and Tunisia’s post-election political struggles.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance

Preventing Conflict During the Pandemic in Southern Tunisia

Preventing Conflict During the Pandemic in Southern Tunisia

Thursday, July 16, 2020

By: Rima Daoud; Sabrine Laribi

Despite being sworn in mere weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic reached Tunisia, the new government’s initial response to the crisis was deemed prompt and efficient by most. But an incomplete decentralization process created tension between local authorities and citizens, as varying interpretations of the virus containment measures caused confusion and panic—with significant implications for communities, businesses, and the most vulnerable. This was particularly true in the country’s southern region, where systemic marginalization has created conditions for social unrest and potential destabilization.

Type: Blog

Global Health

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