Promotion of Think Tank Work on Security Sector Reform and Socio-Economic Challenges in Tunisia

MENA Program Workshop in Berlin, July 12-15, 2017

12/07/2017 - 15/07/2017 | 09:00 - 18:00 | | Invitation only

Discussion

Category: Tunisia, Democratization/System Change

How can socioeconomic disparity and regional inequality in Tunisia be reduced and eventually overcome? To what degree can the promotion of entrepreneurship contribute to economic development, and what are its limits? In reforming Tunisia’s security sector, what are the key objectives, and what measures are needed? What are the Tunisian state’s current deradicalization strategies and what are the shortcomings? How can the international community effectively support the country’s transformation process? These were some of the questions tackled during a workshop organized by the DGAP's Middle East and North Africa program.

Fourteen mid-level experts from Tunisia, Turkey, and Europe participated in the workshop, held in Berlin from July 12-15, 2017.* It was realized in close cooperation with the Tunisian think tank Joussour and with funding from the German Federal Foreign Office, the Institute for International Cultural Relations (ifa), and the Robert Bosch Stiftung.

As reform efforts launched by the 2011 uprising in Tunisia continue, and as the contry confronts a multitude of challenges, the workshop’s discussions focused on several key factors hampering Tunisia’s political, social, and economic development. It also examined how think tanks and civil society organizations can advocate – and communicate – policy recommendations more effectively to the country’s decision makers. The first two days of the workshop focused on topic analysis and discussions with external experts. This was followed by two days of methodological training on policy paper writing and research.  

Despite the progress Tunisia has made in past years, the ongoing process of democratic transformation remains fragile. Participants agreed that corruption and high turnover in government positions are two major factors impeding socioeconomic development and political reform. As a consequence, we see the persistence of grave socioeconomic disparity – a key driver of the upheavals of 2011. Participants emphasized that, contrary to received wisdom, disparities were not merely regional (wealthy coastal regions vs. marginalized central and southern regions, for example) but that divisions between “included” and “excluded” sections of society ran through the entire country (disparities between “included” and “excluded” groups within the same region). Development plans that only focus on regional gaps therefore fall short of fully tackling the problem.

One current trend is to promote entrepreneurship as a means to foster economic development. While participants considered this strategy to be important, some argued that its significance has been “over-hyped.” In addition, participants said that not enough focus was being given to the establishment of start-ups, in part due to a lack of awareness about the conceptual difference and the different economic potential of start-ups and self-employment. Programs for including and developing marginalized areas require a more holistic plan, they argued.

Worshop participants also emphasized the importance of pursuing a participatory approach that involves local communities and stakeholders. This not only increases public support but also ensures the legitimacy of decision-making processes in general. A participatory approach should not only be pursued in the context of specific projects, e.g. involvement of communities affected by changes in Tunisia’s energy sector or people living in the vicinity of (planned) facilities in order to successfully advance Tunisia’s energy transition. The political system in general should also reflect this approach to a greater degree. In this context, and in light of upcoming municipal elections in December 2017, participants stressed the importance of decentralization.   

Workshop discussions also addressed the issues of security sector reform and (de)radicalization. Under Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s (1987­–2011), the security sector – particularly the police – was a pillar of the regime’s power. The close entanglement of security forces and Ben Ali’s power structure made an extensive reform of Tunisia’s security sector after 2011 indispensible to the country’s successful transition and democratization. One change that was highlighted was the changing balance of power among different actors in the security sector. Whereas the Ben Ali regime relied on a strong police force and kept the military relatively weak, recent reform efforts have aimed at strengthening the military while curtailing police power.

Participants agreed that, despite some ambitious reform efforts, progress continues to be very slow. The security sector largely opposes extensive reform, partly due to competition between the police and the national guard. Moreover, the Tunisian parliament’s relative inexperience has impeded it from implementing effective instruments of parliamentary oversight and control over the security sector, especially the intelligence agencies. Concerning radicalization and measures to combat it, participants agreed that socioeconomic grievances and exclusion do not alone explain the radicalization of youth whether in diaspora communities in Europe or in Tunisia. Hence there was a call to identify “organic” factors within society to challenge the jihadist narrative and, just as importantly, to develop alternative calls for action. Participants hailed the Tunisian government’s creation of the “counter narrative platform” as an example that nevertheless needs to be watched and scrutinized to assess its effectiveness.  

Lastly, the workshop considered the role of the European Union and its member states in supporting Tunisia’s transition process. It was argued that cooperation measures directly focusing on Tunisia to combat corruption – through parliamentary and institutional partnerships, for example – need to be expanded.

The July 2017 workshop was part of the MENA program’s ongoing initiative to promote think tank research in the region. The project aims to strengthen the scholarly and technical capacities of civil society actors who are engaged in research and policy analysis and advice – both in the region and in the EU.

* The workshop was the first of two devoted to the subject. The second workshop takes place in Tunis from September 6–9, 2017 and will give participants the opportunity to present and discuss policy recommendations with relevant Tunisian and European decision makers. That workshop is organized in close cooperation with Joussour and the Friedich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit in Tunis with the funding of the German Federal Foreign Office and the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations (ifa).

Responsible Persons

  • Dina Fakoussa

    Dina Fakoussa

    Head of Program, Middle East and North Africa Program
    Tel.: +49 (0)30 25 42 31-30
    Fax: +49 (0)30 25 42 31-16
    fakoussa@dgap.org

  • Laura Lale Kabis-Kechrid

    Laura Lale Kabis-Kechrid

    Program Officer, Middle East and North Africa Program
    kabis@dgap.org

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