Tunisia in Transition: Social and Political Transformation

Tunisia in Transition: Social and Political Transformation

Free TunisiaThe faculty seminar will familiarize participants with the problematic process of democracy building in Tunisia.

In January 2011, Tunisia ignited a chain of popular insurrections that rocked the Arab world, later called the Arab Spring; Tunisia is at present the only country that has moved beyond the violent revolution into building a liberal representative democracy. Participants on this seminar will learn how this transformation was possible. 

Participants can expect to participate in field visits where they will hear directly from social and political actors including professional politicians, civil society activists, gender equality advocates, and human rights workers. Together, participants will examine what arrangements, compromises, and sacrifices have been made to establish Tunisia’s current balanced but still fragile democratic political system. Some of these arrangements have been brokered by civil society organizations, which have come to be known as the quartet—officially, the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet. The quartet was awarded the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize. Seminar participants will likely have the opportunity to meet and interact with quartet members. Participants can also expect to  engage with economists, political scientists, legal scholars, artists, and media professionals about the material and economic conditions behind the success of the Tunisian Revolution.

The seminar draws upon the resources and networks created through SIT’s semester-long undergraduate program Tunisia: Emerging Identities in North Africa. SIT Study Abroad has offered this program since 2008. In Tunisia and in all SIT programs, SIT places the highest priority on the health, safety, and security of all program participants.


The following topics will be explored on the faculty seminar in Tunisia:

  • The Jasmine Revolution and Arab Spring
  • Political actors in modern-day Tunisia: political Islam and secular parties
  • Civil society: women’s and youth organizations
  • New media and social entrepreneurship
  • Microfinance and sustainable development

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this seminar, participants will be able to:

  • Identify the origins and movements of the political phenomenon of the Arab Spring
  • Identify the main social, economic, and political agents behind the 2011 Tunisian Revolution
  • Acquire a fine grasp of the role civil society plays in democracy building, particularly the role played by women and youth
  • Explain the role of political Islam in democracy-building
  • Determine the function of culture and the arts in Tunisia’s political transformation today

On this seminar, participants will explore Tunisia—the country of the first protests of the Arab Spring—and a state where secular tradition, a multicultural population, and the recent resurgence of popular Islam and the Islamist movement are shaping the political, social, and cultural landscape.

Lectures Include:

  • The Arab Spring and the Tunisian Revolution of January 14, 2011
  • Political Islam: the Ennahda Islamist party
  • Secular politics: Bourguiba’s legacy
  • The role of Tunisian women before, during, and after the January 2011 Revolution
  • Social entrepreneurship in Tunisia

Other lectures included in site visits described below.

Site Visits and Field-Based Lectures

  • Explore Tunisia’s ancient history during a visit to Carthage Archaeological Park.
  • Visit Tunisia’s National Assembly and meet members of Parliament.
  • Visit the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, and meet founder Dr. Radhwan Masmoudi.
  • Take an overnight excursion to Cap Bon, a hotbed of progressive secularism. Visit Nidaa Tounes, a secular political party, and receive a presentation from a party official.
  • Visit youth and women’s NGOs.
  • Visit the youth organization I-Watch and listen to a lecture by founder Ashraf Aouadi.
  • Visit the secular NGO the League of Tunisian Women Voters, and meet its founder Dr. Besma Soudani.
  • Visit the Islamist NGO Aswat Nissa, and meet its founder Ikram Nassir.
  • Visit Cogite Coworking Space, and listen to a lecture by founder Leila Charfi.
  • Visit Tunisia-Live, Tunisia’s only online news outlet in English, and hear a lecture by founder Youssef Gaigi.
  • Visit Bizerta, the northernmost city in Africa and the oldest city in Tunisia. Visit an NGO focused on sustainable development.
  • Visit a microfinance institution in Tunis devoted to funding women’s projects, and have a lecture by the institution’s founder Cheyma Gargouri.

Mounir Khélifa, PhD

Mounir KhĂ©lifaDr. Khélifa is a native of Tunisia. He studied English at Tunis University, the Sorbonne, and Yale, where he received his MA and PhD. A professor of English language and literature for more than two decades, he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in poetry, poetics, and comparative literature at Tunis University. He has held several academic administrative positions, including director of English graduate studies at the University of Manouba from 1998 to 2002, and was senior advisor in the cabinet of the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research (2002–2006), where he was responsible for cooperation with foreign institutions and curricular reform. Dr. Khélifa has recently been made a lifetime member of the Tunisian Academy for the Arts, Letters, and Sciences.

As academic director for SIT’s undergraduate program Tunisia: Emerging Identities in North Africa, Dr. Khélifa designs the program’s academic and field-based components, advises students and ensures that their academic needs are met. In this role, Dr. Khélifa draws on his understanding of both American and Tunisian higher education systems, his intimate knowledge of Tunisian culture, and his wide range of contacts in the area.

Participants in the Tunisia in Transition seminar should plan to arrive in Tunis on May 19, 2017, and depart on May 27, 2017.

The program fee for the Tunisia in Transition seminar is $3,350 per participant. This fee includes:

  • Accommodations in single rooms in tourist-class hotels: seven nights in or near Sidi Bou Said and one night on Cap Bon
  • All breakfasts, plus approximately half of all remaining meals, including a welcome dinner and farewell banquet
  • Airport transfers on the program start and end dates as well as all transportation to included program activities
  • All program activities as outlined above
  • Health insurance for the duration of the program
  • Pre-departure preparation materials, including informational materials, syllabus, and pre-program assignments

Program fees do not include:

  • International airfare to/from Tunis
  • Passport or visa fees, if required. (A visa is not necessary for US passport holders.)
  • Immunizations, if needed
  • Approximately one meal (lunch or dinner) per day

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