Civil Resistance and Power Politics: Tunisia meetings

Tunisia is widely seen as the one country that, having experienced a ‘people power’ revolution in the Arab Spring in 2011, succeeded in developing and maintaining a democratic constitutional system thereafter. Yet there have been many difficulties, including low voter participation and a weak economy. What are the best explanations of why Tunisia achieved its albeit modest degree of success? How did members of parliament for rival parties – whether avowedly secular or explicitly Islamic – manage to cooperate in practice? And why did the other revolutions run into such difficulties, including in several cases wars?

A team of six from Oxford explored these and related questions in a series of meetings in Tunisia in January 2019 to disseminate the Arabic translation (publisher: All Prints, Beirut) of Adam Roberts, Michael J. Willis, Rory McCarthy & Timothy Garton Ash (eds.), Civil Resistance in the Arab Spring: Triumphs and Disasters (Oxford University Press, 2016). This is the second book to have resulted from the Oxford University Research Project on Civil Resistance and Power Politics, within the Department of Politics and International Relations.

The photograph above shows the panel visiting a government office in Tunis. From left to right:

  • Christopher Thornton, research student at Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford, and independent analyst specializing in North Africa.
  • Edward Mortimer, Distinguished Fellow of All Souls College, University of Oxford; author of several works on the region, including Faith and Power: The Politics of Islam.
  • Kemal Morjane, Minister of Public Service, Government of Tunisia; previously Minister of Defence and then Foreign Affairs.
  • Adam Roberts, Senior Research Fellow in International Relations, University of Oxford; Principal Investigator of the Oxford Research Project on Civil Resistance and Power Politics.
  • Rory McCarthy, Fellow in Oriental Studies, Magdalen College, University of Oxford and specialist in North Africa. His book, Inside Tunisia’s al-Nahda, was published in October 2018.
  • Michael J. Willis, Fellow in Moroccan & Mediterranean Studies, St Antony’s College, University of Oxford; author of Politics and Power in the Maghreb.
  • Helen Lackner, Oxford-based independent writer; author of Why Yemen Matters and Yemen in Crisis: Autocracy, Neo-liberalism and the Disintegration of a State.

The team had meetings with numerous men and women involved in the public life of Tunisia, including former President Marzouki, former Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh, former President of the Constituent Assembly Mustapha Ben Jaafar, the President of the Truth & Dignity Commission Sihem Bensedrine, other parliamentarians, leaders of political parties, ministers, and the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. A visit was also conducted to Jemna, where contestation continues between a successful date farm cooperative and the Government. Meetings were also held with teaching staff and students at the University of Carthage (Tunis II), and at the University of Sfax.

Professor Sir Adam Roberts is Senior Research Fellow, Department of Politics & International Relations