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Supporting the Development of Civil Society in Tunisia

Posted date: 
Mon, 04/30/2012
Source of the information: 
GAP

The 14th of January 2012 marks one year since Tunisia ousted its former President Ben Ali and the subsequent Arab spring became a reality. In less than a year, peacefully and without political interference from the military, Tunisia has succeeded in making key changes which can lead to a democratic society.

Early on, it was decided that Tunisia would not hold presidential elections, but rather choose a constituent assembly with the responsibility to write a new constitution and form a government. This is very important in a country and a region where the legislature has traditionally been weak.

The Islamic party Ennahda won the election and has been praised by some international media for their moderate party programme. Despite scepticism among more secular parties, Ennahda has so far successfully formed a coalition government.

To ensure that all Tunisians will take part in the democratization process, there are important tasks ahead. Even though successful elections were held, nearly half the population abstained from voting. A key concern is how citizens will engage in the political process. In particular, how can Tunisia create an environment that is conducive to civic engagement and allows citizens to utilize their newfound freedoms to assemble and express opinions? Civil society actors--unions, the bar association, youth and women’s groups, and bloggers--played an essential role in bringing down the previous regime. How will these this strong public participation translate into a new civil society in Tunisia?

At present Tunisian civil society is nascent and transitional. An estimated 2,000 CSOs have been created since the revolution, and many of them have low capacities and limited resources. There also appears to be low capacity to create effective and policy-relevant networks. There is also a coordination challenge, as large numbers of new donors and INGOs arrive in Tunisia to support local civil society.

With support from UNDP and CIVICUS; a network of Tunisian civil society organisations has decided to carry out a rapid Civil Society Index.

The Civil Society Index (CSI) is a comprehensive civil society self-assessment tool that that enables civil society at the national level to build up a full and wide ranging picture of its health, strengths and challenges. For contexts where it is not possible or desirable to implement a full CSI, for example due to lack of resources, or where there is value in a sub-national or sub-sectoral assessment, CIVICUS is developing a new, adaptable rapid self-assessment tool.

Some of the proposed areas for the Rapid CSI in Tunisia include:

  • Civil society’s role in the constitutional process: assess civil society’s actual and potential role in the process; its interaction with the established power; its implications and impacts in the civic space; the influence of each on the other.
  • Civil society capacity and resources: assess the dynamics, interactions, interests and needs of CSOs in the context; capacity needs and gaps by type of organisation and location (rural-urban areas);
  • Networks and coalitions: assess the potential for networks and coalitions and ways in which these could be strengthened.
  • Enabling environment: identify power relations within civil society; assess potential ways of improving civil society space and civic engagement; assess experience of the emerging CSO law.

The assessment will draw on CSI experience from Madagascar, Morocco and other countries. The first results of the Index are expected to be published by end of 2012. For more information please contact patricia.deniz@civicus.org or kawtar.zerouali@undp.org