The Democracy and Governance program is assisting a new generation of Tunisian scholars, writers, analysts and political leaders to establish a self-sustaining national Center on Democracy, Development and Conflict Resolution. Based in the public university system—a vital arena that includes some 400,000 students, professors and teachers—the center will help forge a new and ideologically diverse cadre of political leaders, analysts and NGO activists working in government, the security sector, the legal profession and judiciary, and business, as well as in the emerging field of conflict resolution and dialogue training. Linking theory and practice to directly address the concrete challenges of democratization in Tunisia, the program will not only strengthen the capacity of Tunisians to consolidate democracy, it will also promote collaboration between educators and students coming from both Islamist and secular backgrounds, thus offering an arena conflict resolution for both its participants and the wider public. What is more, we hope that the center will eventually serve as a hub for initiatives and programs that address democratic challenges throughout the wider MENA region.

1. Program Background

In Spring 2012 the United States Institute of Peace and Georgetown University’s Democracy and Governance Program began discussions with a group of Tunisian academics and policy specialists about the challenge of professionalizing a new generation of Tunisians in the fields of democratic studies, development and conflict resolution. At the time, Tunisia’s academic community was coming out from the shadows of autocracy. In that light, a new generation of teachers and scholars were struggling to carve out an independent and influential role for itself, one that would allow them to form a bridge between a newly assertive civil society and an emerging political society.

Through discussions with Tunisian academics and policy specialists we began with a one week seminar in Washington DC. This seminar had two goals: first, to create a nucleus of Tunisian specialists in the fields comparative politics, economic development, constitutional studies and transition studies (with a focus on rule of law, security sector reform and other related subjects); second, to give this group a comprehensive overview of the scholarship and teaching in democratic change, development and conflict resolution are practiced in the United States. In planning for this seminar, our goal was not to impose any particular vision of democratic education on our Tunisian guests, but rather to present them with a large menu of the academic and practical training pursued at Georgetown University and USIP. Based on these presentations and the discussions provoked by them, our Tunisian guests would then be asked to present a series of their own proposals for a longer longer-term initiative that would be organized in Tunisia itself.

The Washington workshop was held over the third week of March, 2013. Our guests included scholars and policy analysts working in several of the leading Tunisian universities and faculties, including the Faculty of Law and Political Science at Tunis University. At the conclusion our Tunisian colleagues presented a memo out-lining a range of activities that they would like to pursue together with American counterparts. In subsequent discussions, we distilled these ideas into several follow on initiatives pivoting around a series of Tunis workshops. These ideas were further honed during meetings that Project Director Brumberg held with Tunisian scholars and advanced graduate students in Tunis over May 31-June 2, 2013.  

2. Project Focus and Goals

Based at Tunis University but reaching out the provinces, this program will bring scholars, policy analysts, government officials, NGOs activists and a range of other actors from the wider national arena, including the provinces. All participants will be academics and advanced graduate students pursuing twin careers in research and teaching, on the one side, and political and social activism on the other. The training and curricular work is designed to engage this link between analytical and practical endeavors, creating a program that is conceptually sophisticated but geared to diverse range of challenges facing Tunisian political and social leaders. Thus the program will have the following three goals:

1) To provide in depth analytical and academic training in a range fields that are central to the study and practice of democratization. 

2) To provide hands-on, programmatic training for a new generation of Tunisian activists, political leaders and government officials working in a wide range of arenas.

3)  To assist Tunisian counterparts in established a comprehensive Masters Degree program/center in Democracy, Development and Conflict Resolution. In addition to courses and regular training that this center will provide Tunisian students, it will also offer a wider national –and potentially regional—audience to the center’s teaching, research and conference activities via a center website.

Georgetown University’s Democracy and Governance Program will organize the academic training while USIP will organize programmatic training. We will also selectively bring in scholars and relevant specialists from outside these two institutions, thus involving specialists from a range of organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Freedom House. 

3. Project Programming

The key focus of this project will be a series of four, two-week workshops that will begin in late Fall 2013 or early Winter 2014. Co-organized with the Faculty of Law and Political Science at Tunis University, these workshops will each have no more than 10 participants, including one or two US scholars or trainers. Based on our most recent meetings with Tunisian colleagues, we have decided to recruit a core group of advanced PhD students who are also active in politics and the NGO world. These students will be joined by one or two faculty members depending on the specific topics taught in the workshop and the background of both student and faculty participants. Each workshop will include discussions and curricula training designed to professionalize the research, writing and teaching that Tunisian scholars and policy analysts undertake in a range of fields. The precise materials and topics of each workshop will be determined in consultation with Tunisian colleagues but will also be based on a prior assessment of the full range of classes, research project and teaching currently undertaken in the Tunisian academic arena.

This above-mentioned capacity, needs and knowledge assessment will be undertaken over Summer 2013 and early Fall 2014, and will be lead by a two or three-person team from USIP and GU. For this purpose we have already begun collecting syllabi and related materials provided by Tunisian colleagues in various universities and academic centers from around the country.

A Project Organizing Committee consisting of some 15 to 20 Tunisian academics and policy analysts, and 3 to 5 American counter-parts, will be formed in June-July 2013. The organizing committee will help choose the participants and topics for the workshops, as well as the longer term institutional and programmatic agenda of any center that emerges on the basis of these workshops.

In Fall 2014 or Winter 2015 USIP and GU will co-host with the Faculty of Law and Political Science at Tunis University a region-wide conference assessing regional and global dynamics affecting democratic struggles in the MENA region. The conference will create a regional network of scholar-activists who can share information and insights about political change in the region, and about the efforts of different university sectors to advance democratic studies and education in the university and second school arenas of the Arab world.

By Winter 2015 our Tunisian colleagues will define a comprehensive curriculum of academic courses and practical training that will be organized by the new center. The launch date of the center will probably begin be fall 2016, but could come earlier depending on the sequencing of the above workshops and related programming. Ideally, the above regional conference could also provide a setting to formally launch the Project/Center.

The above sequencing will be flexible and will be shaped as take advantage of opportunities and address emerging challenges. To facilitate this project, prior to the formal start of the Center/Project itself, we may organize several short duration “pilot classes” to test them out and use this experience for refining other classes and the wider curricula. The participation of advanced graduate students in the workshops themselves will also provide an important testing arena for shaping the course and curricula that will be fundamental to the center and its activities.