On Friday 8 May 2015 the Faculty of Political Sciences, Sociology and Communication at Sapienza University of Rome hosted the conference “Tunisia: from dictatorship to democracy”, part of the series of conferences entitled “Incontri con la Diplomazia” (Meeting with the Diplomatic corps) co-promoted by ISAG – Institute of Advanced Studies in Geopolitics and Auxiliary Sciences – and the Master in Geopolitics and Global Security of Sapienza University of Rome.
The conference aimed to explore recent events in Tunisia as well as give perspectives on future developments and challenges that the country will face in order to become a democracy.
The panel of speakers was composed of Tunisia’s Ambassador to Italy S. E. Naceur Mestiri; Sapienza University Professor and Scientific Coordinator of the Master in Geopolitics and Global Security Gianfranco Lizza; Professor of Middle East History at the University of Florence Leila El Houssi and ISAG Director Daniele Scalea.
The conference was chaired by Professor Lizza, who gave an introductive overview on the current Tunisian situation, characterised by domestic as well as regional political instability. Accordingly, he suggested that Europe should rethink its Mediterranean strategy.
Tunisia’s Ambassador to Italy S. E. Naceur Mestiri offered a broad historical outline of Tunisia from 1957 to 2011. During this time span, Tunisia experienced two dictatorships: the first under Bourguiba (1957 – 1987), whose declared priorities were to wipe out illiteracy as well as poverty; the second under Ben Ali (1987 – 2011) who strove to modernise the economic sector of the country. Then the Ambassador highlighted the main aspects of the todays’ democratic transition, coupled with a strong and cohesive public opinion, as was evident after the March 18 attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis. Ambassador Mestiri concluded by recalling Tunisia’s long-standing diplomatic partnership with Italy.
Professor Lizza, in his capacity as moderator, offered a panorama of Tunisia’s special features, such as its young and ethnically homogeneous population as well as its highly educated middle class and liberalised economy. Moreover, he gave an insight into the privileged historically based friendship between Tunisia and France, as well as Tunisia’s robust economic partnership with Italy, which can also be largely attributed to the geographical position of the countries.
Professor El Houssi identified Tunisia’s strong transcultural tradition as the pillar on which building a democratic government should be founded. During her speech aspects such as multicultural migration, in particular Italian, as well as multiconfessional cohabitation emerged as Tunisia’s special features highlighting the hospitable character of the country. Professor El Houssi concluded by underlining that the process of nation building in Tunisia has been underway since XIX century.
Dr.Scalea pointed to the potential difficulties and challenges Tunisia would face. His focus was on unemployment, more than 50% of which was aged under 25, a profound socio-economic discrepancy was noted when comparing coastal urban with inland rural areas. In addition to the above mentioned situation, he spoke also about a growing GDP, the invaluable and continuous mediation efforts of the unions within Tunisian society, in particular in avoiding clashes between the Islamic Party and the lay opposition. Dr. Scalea moreover described how Tunisia was striving to normalise its relations with the International Community as well as to boost its economic standing on the global market.
The conference was followed by a lively and themed Q&A session.
Professor Domenico Rizzuti, President of the Italian-Tunisian Forum for the Mediterranean Citizenship, opened the session by drawing the attention to the possibility of setting up a permanent forum, a hub to create and share projects to ensure Italy becomes a important bridge linking Europe and North Africa. Afterwards, Professor Antonio Perna, Professor of Economic Sociology, Political Sciences at the University of Messina and recently also Councillor of Culture of the Accorinti’s City Council in Messina, underlined the importance of a growing engagement of the production sector within the Mediterranean Partnership, in particular of the agriculture and the food sectors in order to increase their international competitiveness. Moreover, Professor Francesco Franci as well as the Islam researcher Glauco D’Agostino participated in the Q&A session.