Lessons from the Arab Spring: the Case of Tunisia
Seven years ago, the self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit and vegetable vendor inspired a nation to stand up against a corrupt, authoritarian regime and demand a better future. Inspired by Tunisia’s example, Arab publics rose up in expectant defiance, first in solidarity and then for change in its own right at home, setting into motion a domino effect that became known as the “Arab Spring.” But was there really an Arab Spring, or is the term actually a misnomer? Is a “Tunisian Spring” a more apt descriptor, given where Arab Spring countries, with the exception of Tunisia, have ended up? Some have failed to bring about democracy, most crushingly in Egypt, which seemed to have been on a promising path. Other countries either brutally but effectively quieted dissent or became scenes of civil war, chaos, displacement, and utter disintegration.
Drawing on his recent book, Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly (Columbia University Press, 2017), Professor Safwan Masri will examine the factors that contributed to Tunisia’s experience after the Arab Spring, focusing on the country’s history of reformism in the domains of education, religion, and women’s rights. He will use the case of Tunisia to shed light on the state of affairs in the broader region, exploring themes such as Islamism, education, democracy, and reform. Masri will argue that the factors that helped Tunisia have not only been missing in other Arab counties, but an opposite, regressive trajectory has been followed in much of the rest of the region.
Professor Safwan M. Masri is Executive Vice President for Global Centers and Global Development at Columbia University. In this role, he directs a number of Columbia’s global initiatives and is responsible for the development of an expanding network of Global Centers, located in Amman, Beijing, Istanbul, Mumbai, Nairobi, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, and Tunis. These centers work to advance Columbia’s global mission and extend the University’s reach to address the pressing demands of our global society.
Masri holds a senior research scholar appointment at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). He joined the faculty of Columbia Business School in 1988 and was appointed Vice Dean in 1993, a position he held for thirteen years. He previously taught engineering at Stanford University, and was a visiting professor at INSEAD (Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires) in France.
A scholar on education and contemporary geopolitics and society in the Arab world, Masri’s work focuses on understanding the historic, postcolonial dynamics among religion, education, society, and politics. He is the author of Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly (Columbia University Press, 2017), which examines why Tunisia was the only country to emerge from the Arab Spring a democracy. Masri’s writings on education and current affairs have been featured in the Financial Times, Huffington Post, and Times Higher Education.
Masri is an honorary fellow of the Foreign Policy Association. He was founding chairman of both King’s Academy and Queen Rania Teacher Academy in Jordan, and served as an advisor to Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah. He is a trustee of International College in Beirut and of the Welfare Association (Taawon) in Ramallah, and a member of the advisory board of the School of Business at the American University in Cairo. Masri has served on the governing boards of Endeavor Jordan, the Children’s Museum Jordan, Arab Bankers Association of North America (ABANA), and Aramex.
Masri earned his Bachelor of Science degree in industrial engineering from Purdue University in 1982; his Master of Science in industrial engineering, also from Purdue in 1984; and his Ph.D. in industrial engineering and engineering management from Stanford University in 1988. He was honored with the Singhvi Professor of the Year for Scholarship in the Classroom Award in 1990, the Robert W. Lear Service Award in 1998, and the Dean’s Award for Teaching Excellence in a Core Course in 2000. Masri has also been honored with the 2003 American Service Award from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
Professor Jean-Pierre Filiu, a historian and an arabist, is professor of Middle East Studies at Sciences Po, Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA). He has taught
at Sciences Po since 2006 and has been an associate to the CERI since 2009. He has held visiting professorships both at Columbia School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) and at Georgetown School of Foreign Service (SFS).
He served also as an adviser to the Prime minister (2000-2002), to the Minister of Defense (1991-93), and to the Minister of Interior (1990-91). Prof. Filiu was a career diplomat from 1988 to 2006, following humanitarian missions in Afghanistan (1986) and Lebanon (1983-84). He was assigned to Amman, before becoming Deputy Chief of mission in Damascus and Tunis.
His book Apocalypse in Islam (University of California Press, 2011) was awarded the main prize by the French History Convention. Hurst (London) and Oxford University Press (New York) published his Arab Revolution, Ten Lessons from the Democratic Uprising in 2011, Gaza, a History in 2014 and From Deep State to Islamic State: the Arab Counter-Revolution and its Jihadi Legacy in 2015. His works and articles about contemporary Islam and the Arab world have been published in a dozen languages. Prof. Filiu also wrote the script of Best of Enemies, a graphic novel about US in the Middle East (two of the three volumes are already out with Self Made Hero).