Seminar| Tunisia in 2016: Threats, Challenges and Opportunities

OxGAPS hosted a seminar by Nabil Karoui (Nidaa Tounes) and Said Ferjani (Ennahda) on “Tunisia in 2016: Threats, Challenges and Opportunities.” The seminar  was chaired by Adel Hamaizia (Committee Vice Chairman of OxGAPS) who began with an introduction of both speakers before noting that perhaps the word “achievements” was a crucial word missing from the title and relevant to any discussion on Tunisia’s recent history, especially when comparing the country to other parts of the Arab world post-2011. The seminar was structured to give Ferjani and Karoui 15 minutes each to lay out their thoughts on Tunisia before proceeding to a question and answer session.

Said Ferjani

Ferjani opened by stating that the human being was at the centre of his political framework and that he believed that this should be the guiding political principal for Tunisia. He then referred back to the 2011 revolution itself, arguing that it had indeed brought freedom to huge numbers of Tunisians, including to many of those within Ben Ali’s party. This freedom required careful protection and as such, although he believed that there was a need for new legislation on issues such as libel, the state’s most important duty at present was to protect liberty and to leave such reforms which might impinge on Tunisians’ freedom to a later date. However, Ferjani stressed that these legal reforms were essential in order to modernise Tunisia’s archaic legal system—which dates back to Ben Ali’s regime—and create necessary alignment with the updated constitution. Again though, recent protests in the more deprived areas of Tunisia speak to the popular desire for a greater political focus on economic development rather than on the more removed and abstract concepts of the constitution and legal reform. Ferjani appreciated that the concerns of the protesters were unquestionably serious and that Tunisia did indeed need to rapidly turn its economy around. However, the response of the state—allowing the peaceful demonstrations to go ahead and listening to the demands made—was a positive sign of Tunisia’s continuing democratic development.

Ferjani considered Tunisia’s greatest current threat to be terrorism, and its associated security challenges. Daesh has extended itself across Libya and has proven its ability to carry out major attacks within Tunisia. However, the response of the Tunisian security services gives reason for hope: efforts have been stepped up, and there has been success in dismantling some of the cells within the country. Ferjani ended on an optimistic note, saying he believed that Tunisia could become a model not only for political reform but also for the delivery of strong and positive economic and social policy.

Nabil Karoui

Karoui provided a brief background of Nessma, a TV channel based in Tunisia which he founded in 2009. He explained that it was started with the desire to forge greater unity in the Maghreb with a belief in the power of the media to achieve this. During its first couple of years the channel faced a wave of challenges from a number of regimes in the Maghreb and was pushed close to bankruptcy on many occasions. The advent of the Tunisian revolution in late 2010 and early 2011 led to a complete turn-around in the channel’s focus, diversifying away from entertainment, and weighing into the political scene for the first time.

Karoui then proceeded to set out his views on post-revolution Tunisia. The country continued to struggle with a new identity: when Nessma TV aired Persepolis, a French-Iranian cartoon film on the 1979 Iranian uprising, considered by many as blasphemous, Karoui’s house was burned, his family almost killed, and he himself faced the death penalty in court. Moreover, the rapid rise in the number of political parties operating in the country led to an escalation in tensions between the plethora of different groups. However, Karoui, like Ferjani, saw hope in the subsequent turn of events. A major political conference in Paris de-escalated the early political crisis, ensured elections were held, and set an important precedent. Karoui argued that dialogue and consensus rather than military means have now largely been established as the norm to solve political disputes in Tunisia. He cited the important achievements of the post-Spring unity government, and concluded with an optimistic outlook for Tunisia, highlighting the importance of security and inclusive economic growth.