For a month and a half since the famous popular uprisings that led to the Arab World's first democratic revolution, Tunisia had been struggling to identify and implement the necessary structural and ideological changes that are essential for the budding democratic system. Tunisians all over the country had been patiently waiting to see what the interim government and the opposition leaders would bring to the table, and for a month and a half they got little more than flowery rhetoric praising the revolution and those who gave their lives for a democratic Tunisia. This was not enough; what was absolutely imperative was a frank discussion of practical steps toward democratization, and for representatives of the interim government, opposition parties, and prominent civil society actors to engage publicly with citizens on this front.
To create a vibrant and constructive dialogue on necessary political reforms, the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) organized a public forum event on Thursday, February 24, 2011, with 4 panelists of extremely high calibre and influence in the Tunisian political landscape, to speak directly and candidly with Tunisian citizens about their contributions, enacted and intended, on the road to democracy. The speakers were: Yadh ben Achour, Chair of the Interim Commission for Political Reforms, Hamadi Jebali, Official Spokesperson of al-Nahda Party, Mouldi Riyahi, Representative of the Democratic Forum for Work and Liberties, and Hamoudi ben Slema, renowned political scientist and civic activist.
In the first segment of the public forum, each panelist was granted 10 minutes to give a comprehensive assessment of the pace of political reforms in Tunisia, and the direction in which they ought to be going. Dr. Radwan Masmoudi, President of CSID, delivered the opening and welcoming remarks, in which he affirmed the need for public discourse and frank discussion on the direction of the political evolution taking place in Tunisia, and the need for lay citizens and activists alike to remain active in the political sphere.
Yadh ben Achour was then given the floor to address his perspective on current and future Tunisian politics. He spoke about the miracle that was the Tunisian Revolution. He insisted, though the revolution was certainly a thing to be cherished and honored, that Tunisia was in its first stages of democratization, and that a truly democratic foundation must be put in place in order for future steps toward democracy to be secured. He echoed the need for all citizens to remain engaged and attentive to the changing policies of the government, and for the calls for freedom, human dignity, and essential liberties to continue.
Second to speak was Mouldi Riyahi, who focused his address on the duties and responsibilities of all Tunisians to take their futures in their own hands and no longer entrust the government without due scrutiny and accountability. He spoke about the history of the Tunisian people, and how they had always been a people of dignity and humanity, and that they deserve, and must continue to demand, a representative and democratic government that works for its people, and not against them.
Hamadi Jebali delivered the third presentation, and spoke directly to the audience and the broader Tunisian citizenry about the political void that has sprung up after the deposition of the dictator and the dissolution of the ruling political party, the Constitutional Democratic Assembly (RCD). He addressed the role that al-Nahda party would like to play in the period of political and social reforms in which Tunisian presently finds itself, which is to serve as a vehicle through which the principles of the Tunisian society are manifested and therefore implemented.
Hamouda ben Slama was the final panelist to speak, and was perfectly positioned to give an objective, scientific analysis of not only the manner and content of the other panelist's comments, but also on the broader political fabric, past, present, and future. He was also the only speaker to speak at length about the role of the Tunisian youth both in driving the revolution and in building the new democracy, remarks which were greeted with applause from the audience of mostly young people.
After the panelists delivered their remarks, it was time for the 'Question & Answer" segment of the event, which was incontrovertibly the most interesting, heated, and engaging portion of the afternoon. The questions, which normally were to be no longer than 2 minutes in length, became personal commentary, ranging from specific responses to the panelists' remarks to general assessments of Tunisian politics. It was a sight to behold, and illustrated very vividly the need for these sorts of events in post-revolutionary Tunisia. It was clear that the audience thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity to engage so directly and unabashedly with such important political personalities, and took full advantage of their time at the microphone.
During the Q&A period, Mr. Iadh Ben Achour spoke again and affirmed his total commitment to the idea of a "constitutional assembly" to be elected by the people. The audience, which has pushed him so hard to take a position on this question, was delighted to hear him make this commitment for the first time in public. The whole audience, of almost 300 people, stood up and cheered Mr. Ben Achour, when he made this promise
This was precisely the reaction which CSID had hoped for, which was to encourage Tunisian citizens to ask, demand, listen, discuss, and plan their futures, and never again to allow political life to be overtaken by an elite, authoritarian few. Undoubtedly, this public forum will be the first of many that all aim to maintain a spirit of civic duty, transparency, accountability, and respectful discourse, all on the path of true democratization. In order to secure a smooth and swift transition to democracy in Tunisia, CSID will undertake to organize similar discussions and "national dialogue meetings and conferences" throughout the country over the next 6-12 months.
Watch Videos of the Event (in Arabic):
1st Presentation – Yadh Ben Achour
2nd Presentation – Mouldi Reyahi
3rd Presentation – Hamadi Jebali
4th Presentation – Hamouda Ben Slama
Q & A – and Answers from Yadh Ben Achour