Tunisia's troubled path to democracy the focus of upcoming symposium

11 July 2016

Leading scholars and activists from Tunisia and Indonesia will gather to discuss the political future of Tunisia at a special symposium in Melbourne from 11 – 12 July.

Leading scholars and activists from Tunisia and Indonesia will gather to discuss the political future of Tunisia at a special symposium in Melbourne from 11 – 12 July. 

Hosted by the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation (ADI), the Post-Arab Spring Tunisia: Decentralisation and Local Democracy symposium will see many Tunisians and Indonesians who have been actively engaged in shaping their own country’s political future come together in person for the first time.

The symposium is being supported by the Australian Government through the Council for Australian-Arab Relations (CAAR) of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

ADI Director Professor Fethi Mansouri believes the symposium will generate some exciting discussions.

“The symposium will allow the Tunisians and Indonesians to compare notes with respect to regional experiences and draw on the expertise of the pioneering Australia-Indonesia Electoral Support Program (AIESP),” he said.

Professor Fethi Mansouri explained there was a lot of uncertainty in Tunisia around systems of political governance, partly due to the effects of globalisation.

“Globalisation has put a lot of pressure on political systems – even well established and stable ones - so spare a thought for emerging democracies such as Tunisia,” Professor Mansouri said.

“In the case of the recent Brexit events around the Europe Union, there is an impression in some countries - such as the UK - that they have yielded too much power to Brussels.

“In Australia, some people have turned to the independents and minor parties because they feel a sense of alienation and powerlessness in relation to certain agendas.”

Professor Mansouri said democracy in Tunisia had emerged as the only success story of the Arab Spring and “politically speaking, has been so far so good.”

“What is happening right now is that the country is facing a new political challenge,” Professor Mansouri explained.

“They are trying to adjust the overall political system with local governance playing a central role within which local councillors can feel they can exert some authority.

“There have been some constitutional changes to allow for that, but it will be the first time in the country’s history that local elections have been conducted transparently and contested openly and the results will be important in terms of what is happening.”

Professor Mansouri said it had to be appreciated that Tunisia also had to contend with a weak economy and a persistent regional instability.

“Its neighbour Libya is chaotic, Algeria has its own challenges, Egypt is still reeling following the ousting of Mursi, there is civil war in Syria, and Turkey is becoming increasingly unpredictable,” Professor Mansouri explained.

“Tunisia needs international support as it is right now the only positive democratic template for that region.

“If Tunisia doesn’t succeed there is no other viable model to look at, so the stakes are very high.”

Featured speakers at the symposium include:

  • Fethi Mansouri, UNESCO Chair, Cultural Diversity and Social Justice and Director, ADI
  • Najla Abbes, co-founder and program coordinator of the League of Tunisian Women Voters (LET). LET aims to improve Tunisian women's ability to participate effectively in the political and public life. Najla will talk about the opportunities and challenges created by the local municipal elections.
  • Belhassen Turki, the Tunisian Local Governance Project will speak about the creation of 64 new municipalities in Tunisia which will help the country develop a strong local administration.
  • Greg Barton, Chair Global Islamic Politics, ADI
  • Hadar Gumay, Election Commission of Indonesia
  • Ines Ben Youssef, Free Patriots and Tunisian Human Rights League
  • Saber Houchati, National Federation of Tunisian Cities

Full details about the event are available at the Alfred Deakin Institute website.

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