USIP’s Work in Tunisia
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.