After The Revolution: Highlights From The World Affairs Council Visit To Tunisia

Phuong Nguyen, for GPA -- A national delegation from the World Affairs Council, the oldest and largest non-profit grassroots organization in the United States dedicated to educating and engaging Americans on global issues, made the organization's third visit to Tunisia in March. This marked its first visit since the country’s political revolution of 2010 and 2011.

The delegation was headed by Craig Snyder, president of the World Affairs Council’s Philadelphia chapter. Snyder was joined by Hatem Bourial, a leading specialist in Tunisia’s culture and history and Jerry Sorkin, a specialist on the Middle East and North Africa.

The purpose of the visit was to achieve a well-rounded, firsthand understanding of Tunisia’s current climate through numerous meetings with leading members of government, political parties, civil societies and activists around the nation.

The delegation was welcomed by Chema Gargouri, the founder of the non-governmental association Tunisian Association for Management and Social Stability. It joined him in a sharing session about the challenges that Tunisia faces as the result of its faltering economy, the pressing need for job creation and how Gargouri’s projects are tackling this need. The delegation also met with Oussama Romdhani, the Minister of Communication prior to the revolution, and heard him describe and explain the situation and problems in Tunisia.

Among the numerous meetings, including face-to-face time with representatives of the two major political parties in Tunisia, a more in-depth understanding of Tunisia’s situation was achieved.

Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi, founder of the country’s Islamic Ennahda party which held the plurality in Tunisia from October 2011 through 2014, confirmed with the delegation that he believed in the benefit of the multi-party system and noted how his party stepped down at the end of 2013 to give way for a government of technocrats,to pave the way for the most recent elections held at the end of 2014.

The World Affairs Council also met with Khemais Jhinaoui, chief diplomatic advisor to President Beji Caid Essebsi, whose Nida Tounes party now heads the government after the elections held at the end of 2014. During the meeting, Jhinaoui emphasized the importance of stimulating Tunisia’s economy with the creation of jobs.

Ambassador Elyes Kasri, Director General for the Americas and Asia, expressed his concerns about Tunisia’s foreign policy, including the security challenges faced with the proliferation of weapons in Libya, Mali and other nearby countries.

Meetings with Tunisia’s youth activist groups in Kairouan and Sousse, which played important roles during the revolution, brought light to the fact that an older generation of politicians are overseeing the direction of the country’s politics. They also discussed the challenges in Tunisia’s educational system, the future for Tunisia’s youth and the youth’s role in creating jobs and economic opportunities by thinking like entrepreneurs.

In a concluding meeting for the delegation, United States Ambassador to Tunisia Jacob Walles, who has been serving as ambassador to Tunisia throughout the revolution, underscored the message of economic assistance. He also stressed the role Tunisia must play in rising to the challenge and correcting many of the structural impediments within their own system, not solely relying on limited funding from the United States and other donor nations. Walles emphasized the consensus efforts of various Tunisian parties to implement free and transparent elections in the last cycle, as well as the commitment the United States has made to help Tunisia achieve its goal of democracy.

The success of the World Affairs Council trip to Tunisia was beyond the expectations of all involved and has set the stage for future visits of its delegations in late 2015 or early 2016.

Learn more about the trip and hear personal feedback from Craig Snyder here.

Image courtesy of the World Affairs Council.