Safwan M. Masri presents "Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly" at the Shoman Foundation

The Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation organized a public event for the launch of a book by Safwan M. Masri, Executive Vice President for Global Centers and Global Development at Columbia University, titled Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly, on October 23, 2017.

January 02, 2018

The Shoman Foundation is a nonprofit institution that highlights the efforts in building the foundations for Arab progress by supporting the national economy, encouraging research, community innovation, leadership, literature and arts. Masri was introduced by Rania Atallah, psychotherapist and former Director of Communications for HM King Abdullah of Jordan, who also moderated a question and answer session with the audience.

The book addresses how in a region beset by brutal repression, humanitarian disasters, and civil war, Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution alone gave way to a peaceful transition to a functioning democracy. Following years of research, Masri shares how within four short years, Tunisians passed a progressive constitution, held fair parliamentary elections, and ushered in the country's first-ever democratically elected president. The question posed in the book is whether Tunisia simply avoided the misfortunes that befell its neighbors, or if there were particular features that set the country apart and made it a special case? He traces Tunisia's history of reform in the realms of education, religion, and women's rights, arguing that the seeds for today's relatively liberal and democratic society were planted as far back as the middle of the nineteenth century. Masri argues that Tunisia stands out not as a model that can be replicated in other Arab countries, but rather as an anomaly, as its history of reformism set it on a separate trajectory from the rest of the region.

The narrative explores notions of identity, the relationship between Islam and society, and the hegemonic role of religion in shaping educational, social, and political agendas across the Arab region. Based on interviews with dozens of experts, leaders, activists, and ordinary citizens, and a synthesis of a rich body of knowledge, Masri provides a sensitive, often personal, account that is critical for understanding not only Tunisia but also the broader Arab world.