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Salafist Youth in Tunisia and the Process of Subjectification

In collaboration with the American University of Sharjah

March 2014 – June 2015

This project aims to shed light on the complex factors that led to the political significance of Salafism in the Middle East. Salafism is a movement that aims to reform contemporary society by going back to the roots of Islam at the time of the Prophet Mohammed. The few studies conducted about Salafists in Tunisia confirm that most Salafis are young men, typically in their 20s coming from lower middle class or poor backgrounds, who live in either interior rural regions or in the poor slums of big urban cities in coastal regions. In general, they tend to see themselves as deeply marginalized actors in a context dominated by perceived secular, authoritarian, and morally corrupt regimes at the national and the global levels. The complex and unpredictable process of subjectification undertaken by young Salafists within the specific historical context of Tunisia is the main focus of this research proposal.

The research raises a number of questions: Why do young men choose this particular path of subjectification and not others? How is the chosen subjectivity of becoming a Salafist translated into civic and social actions?  How far is it possible to reconcile Salafist subjectification with that of being a Tunisian citizen? Consequently, what are the origins of what is commonly viewed as the Salafist threat to the modern secular state in Tunisia and elsewhere in the Middle East?

Aims of the project

  • To examine the historical and contextual intersectional and inter-subjective factors that contribute to the individual’s choice of becoming a Salafist and to the process of subjectification;
  • To investigate homogeneity and heterogeneity among individual youths in terms of how they translate religious/moral commitment into several forms of civic commitment in their day-to-day life;
  • To explore the outcomes of the subjectification process in terms of possibilities of combining youth sacred meanings and practices of freedom and social justice with the hegemonic secular meanings and practice of citizenship.

Outcomes and dissemination

  • Three research papers
  • One article published in a peer reviewed international journal
  • Two academic round table discussions bringing multidisciplinary scholars from AUS and Sfax University
  • One public launch event held at LSE to present the three research papers


Project Directors

Aitemad Mehanna

Dr Aitemad Muhanna| is Research Fellow at the LSE Middle East Centre. She directs a research project funded by Oxfam which examines women’s political participation in five Arab states, including Tunisia. She received her PhD in Development Studies from the University of Swansea in 2010. Originally from the Gaza Strip, she has extensive experience as a gender and development specialist and activist in Palestine.



Dr James Sater| is an Associate Professor in the Department of International Studies at AUS. In 2012-13, he was Guest Professor at the Centre for Contemporary Middle East Studies at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense. Fluent in French, he has worked on state-civil society relations in North Africa, women’s rights movements and parliamentarians, political parties, public opinion and the process of democratization. He now works on questions of citizenship, secularism, and constitutionalism in North Africa.


copyright Charles Fred, 2013, source: