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A Decade of Strengthening Democracy in Tunisia

Ten years ago today, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled Tunisia after more than two decades of undemocratic rule, marking the culmination of what is now known as the Jasmine Revolution.  The uprising erupted just a month earlier with the self-immolation of a fruit vendor in Sidi Bouzid that sparked protests over unemployment and corruption in Tunisia and the government’s lack of response.

On this anniversary, Tunisia remains the only country to have emerged as a success story from the Arab Spring, adopting a constitution that established a representative democracy and guarantees the rights and liberties of its citizens. But despite the democratic milestones Tunisia has achieved, its government and political parties continue to struggle with addressing the public’s concerns. To help Tunisia fulfill its democratic potential, the International Republican Institute (IRI) is proud to work with political party officials on policy development and implementation, while empowering the country’s next generation of democratic leaders.

History has proven that democracy is a process, not a destination. Despite its democratic progress, Tunisia remains plagued by many of the same grievances that provoked the country’s revolution in 2011. As often occurs in the lead up to this anniversary, Tunisia is witnessing a spike in protests and sit-ins across the country that underscore the unfulfilled promises of the revolution and citizens’ dissatisfaction with the government. Recent IRI polling has in fact found that 87 percent of Tunisians believe their country is heading in the wrong direction, and only 23 percent consider Tunisia a full or nearly full democracy. To reinvigorate citizens’ faith in the democratization process, stakeholders must fight for meaningful reforms that address the injustices that sparked the revolution.

To that end, IRI has been working to help promote Tunisia’s democratic transition by conducting impactful public opinion research; providing technical support and training to political parties; and strengthening the organizational capacity of civil society to advocate for participatory and representative governance in Tunisia. Working with parties from across the political spectrum under its Strengthening Trust & Accountability in Tunisia (STAT) project, IRI is supporting political parties to strengthen their institutional capacity for policy development and build effective partnerships with government and civil society to inform the policy development process.

To help parties become more representative of, responsive to and trusted by citizens, IRI is supporting internal party policy centers and training academies to develop more substantive policy solutions and foster the next generation of democratic leaders. By providing valuable insights on organizational structure, strategic planning and policy development, IRI contributes to parties’ capacity to research, design and promote policy proposals that aim to improve governance in Tunisia. For example, working with IRI, youth members of the Ennahdha Movement’s Training Academy have developed various policy papers addressing issues that matter to citizens, including traffic safety, debt burdens of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and administrative corruption.

Equally as important as the development of responsive policy agendas is their communication to the public. Creating citizen-centered party platforms is only half the battle; parties also need to convince citizens of their efficacy and assemble the public and political support to enact them. Understanding the critical importance of this step in the policy implementation process, IRI is conducting a series of trainings with young members of the Machroua Tounes party, who are designated as the party’s future spokespersons. These trainings on strategic communications and public speaking will prepare the spokespersons to represent Machroua at press conferences in which they will unveil new party policies to citizens and the media. These and other IRI-trained party members represent an upcoming generation of Tunisian politicians who intend to deliver transparent and responsive governance.

Through this work supporting supply-side governance, paired with demand-side work that promotes civic awareness and government accountability, IRI believes that better governance in Tunisia is achievable. On this tenth anniversary of the Tunisian revolution, effective governance is more important than ever, and it is essential that all stakeholders remain involved in and committed to the democratic process.