Panel 2B

Tunisia After the Revolution

13.45 – 15.45
Chair: Ozlem Tur, Middle East Technical University

Modelling for a Living: Two-Level Games and Rhetorical Action in the Debt Negotiations of Post-Revolutionary Tunisia

Irene Fernández-Molina, University of Exeter, Department of Politics

This paper aims to examine the relationship between Tunisia’s external indebtedness and foreign policy during the new stage that started with the revolution and regime change in 2011. The central question addressed is how the successive Tunisian presidents and governments of the period 2011-2016 have internally and internationally negotiated the issue of the ‘odious debt’ inherited from the dictatorship and the renewed borrowing needs of their state; that is, how they have tried to strike a balance between the contradictory pressures and expectations coming from the domestic and global spheres in relation to this problem. Three episodes will be examined: the initial attempts undertaken by President Moncef Marzouki to obtain a moratorium and question the legitimacy of the ‘odious debt’ in 2012, the negotiations of the loan of the IMF that was finally agreed in June 2013, and the negotiations of the extended arrangement following the latter in May 2016. The analysis of each of these episodes will look at the domestic and international dimensions of the respective negotiations: on the one hand, the domestic political debate and contestation, including stances and actions by left-wing parties, business organisations and the financial sector; on the other hand, the discourse or ‘rhetorical action’ maintained by the Tunisian representatives abroad, focusing on the role of the Tunisian transition as a regional ‘model’, the need for international material and political support to ensure its viability, and the responsibility and coherence of the Western powers’ action in relation to their own norms and discourses.

Processes of Democratic Consolidation in Tunisia – A Political Party Perspective

Ozlem Tur, Middle East Technical University and Sebnem Yardimci Geyikci, TED University

Five years on from the Tunisian revolution, Tunisia for many experts stands as the sole success story of the Arab Spring. The country has adopted a pluralist and democratic constitution and held three free and fair elections. Although socio-economic problems and security challenges continue, as a whole Tunisian experience is praised by many. However, the reality on the ground seems much gloomier. Recent opinion surveys suggest that there is a significant degree of dissatisfaction from the political parties, the parliament and the very institution of democracy. But what accounts for this disaffection? Why did aspiration for democracy declined? This paper addresses this question from a political party perspective and argues that political party failures can be explanatory to understand this disillusionment. As the literature suggests political parties are key agents of democratization. In the case of Tunisia, parties seem to be successful in conflict resolution however, they seem to suffer in providing regime legitimacy and in the institutionalisation of democracy. The reasons behind party failures, we argue, is mainly related first to the problems in balancing the demands of representation and effectiveness and  second to the resilience of the institutions of the old regime.   The paper relies on two fieldwork researches conducted in Tunis based on multiple in-depth semi-structured interviews with the leading figures as well as rank and file members of political parties, first in May 2015 and second in November 2016.

Connecting the Online with the Offline: The Evolution of Collective Action in Tunisia

Cindy Reiff, University of Exeter

Over the past years social movements have become an integral part of everyday politics in the Middle Eastern region. In the context of the Arab uprisings they have taken the form of spontaneous street protests and later developed into organized collective action. This can be particularly well observed in Tunisia where the protest movements from the streets became more institutionalized and are now working alongside political parties and traditional civil society organizations to influence the formal decision-making process. A crucial observation to make is that contentious politics no longer just happen in the realms of the offline world but have taken over the virtual spheres of the internet, using modern communication technologies such as social media as a tool for mobilization and dissemination of information.  Taking the example of Tunisia, and based on the theories of social movements and contentious politics this paper aims to explore how the sphere of contentious politics has evolved from the early stages of the street protests into well organized collective action. Particular focus is laid on the question how online and offline movements connect and work together to bring about political change. One of the key arguments to be developed is the importance of the initial phase of political liberalization after the 2011 Tunisian uprisings, and especially the newly gained freedom of speech in the country, in facilitating the transition from scattered dissident movements into established groups with clear political goals and strategies.

When Islamists Lose: The Politicization of Tunisia’s al-Nahda Movement

Rory McCarthy, University of Oxford

There is a tension within Islamist groups in the Arab world between their religious social movements and their political ambitions. In an uncertain transition away from authoritarian rule, party competition and the risk, even likelihood, of defeat in relatively fair elections forces Islamist groups to confront anew the challenge of politicization. When their political ambitions were frustrated under semi-authoritarian conditions, Islamists retreated from politicization to shelter in their social movements. But what is the effect of party competition and electoral defeat in a transition? The paradox is that the frustration of political ambition may produce the opposite strategy. Drawing on an ethnographic study of Tunisia’s Islamist movement al-Nahda and its campaign for the October 2014 legislative elections at the local level, this paper argues that an uncertain transition and election defeat can make a movement more politicized, not less. Al-Nahda adopted this strategy not for short-term gain, for in fact the decision brought significant costs, but out of a perception that it would offer the movement long-term protection.

Post-Uprising Governmentality and Counter-Conduct: Continuous Resistance amid Normalized Insecurity and Terror in Tunisia

Saerom Han, University of Aberdeen

How can we understand the successful but unsuccessful transformation of Tunisia since 2011? Tunisia has been recognized as the only victorious case in the region in that it has achieved the liberal democratic state institutions as well as an unprecedented level of political freedom. From the social and economic perspective, however, people still suffer from the lack of job opportunities, inequalities, and corruption. In particular, the marginalized condition of the interior regions has little improved. In this regard, it is not surprising to see today’s continuous protests and strikes in the impoverished areas as well as in Tunis. However, the notable differences are the decreasing level of public support and participation in these social movements and the attempts of the ruling elites to denounce them based on the logic of the state of emergency facing terrorism. While terrorist threat is not a fiction in the Tunisian context, it is also being fictionalized and has a negative impact on social movements for socio-economic issues. Deploying the Foucauldian notions of governmentality/counter-conduct, both qualitative and quantitative discourse analysis of local newspapers written in Arabic, as well as interviews with various social movement actors in Tunisia, I attempt to answer the following questions: How have the security techniques in Tunisia been reconfigured by the ruling elites since 2011? What are the functions of the security mentality within Tunisian society? To what extent are the social movements autonomous and/or subordinated to the security mentality, and what does it imply about democratic transition in Tunisia?