Since independence, Tunisia was ruled by an authoritarian regime that mutated into a police state under the country’s second president, former Minister of Interior Zinelabidine Ben Ali. Public space was closed and political participation became quasi non-existent. Nonetheless, the country’s strong institutions, the spread of education among the population, the limited political bloodshed in Tunisia’s recent history, among other things, gave the Tunisian transition to democracy a unique path.
The democratic system that Tunisia adopted in 2011 is therefore an originality that attracted global scholarly attention. So is the duality of Islam and Democracy. The strengthening of individual freedoms and the protection of human rights, besides, have reached unprecedented levels in the region. The Tunis Center will facilitate studying Tunisia's democratic transition, which would benefit Columbia faculty and students, especially from the departments of Political Science and Sociology, the Middle East Institute, the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS), the Law School and the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA).
The Tunis Center will also encourage the study of Political Science and International Relations in the region, starting with Tunisia. As a discipline, Political Science was partly banned in Tunisia during dictatorship. We will leverage the visits of Columbia faculty and graduate students who specialize in this field to teach courses and organize workshops on Political Science in Tunisian universities and with Tunisian students.
Democracy and Constitutional Engineering in the Middle East is a program that can serve as an example. It was a study-abroad summer class taught by Pr. John Huber and organized in 2015 by the Global Centers, the Office of Global Programs and the Department of Political Science. It lasted three weeks and was organized in Tunisia and partly in Turkey, with the Istanbul Center. It provided Columbia students and a select group of students from the region with tools to understand Political Science and the process of democratization. The class did not take place in 2016 and 2017, but it may restart in 2019 with Tunis and Nairobi as its locations.
International Relations was also neglected during the Ben Ali era. While essential to understanding foreign policy and the interactions between countries, and useful for working in think tanks and NGO's, the field is not widespread in Tunisian academia. The Tunis Center will continue organizing lectures and workshops on the topic. The Rambourg Fellowship fits under this category, as it will equip students with skills that allow them to contribute in this field.