March 2014 – February 2016
This project aimed to shed light on the complex factors that led to the political significance of youth movements in Tunisia and the complex factors that lead to political stability and instability. The project focused on two aspects:
The constitution building in contemporary Tunisia and issues of trust among the political elite concerning the effectiveness of constitutionalism – both as a source for individual rights and as a guarantor of stability.
The issue of youth mobilisation as a factor that has been crucial across the Middle East in understanding stability and security.
The legal-political angle of the project focused on Tunisia’s complex transition. A major part of this transition has been the constitutional process, which led to the adoption of a new constitution in January 2014. Crucial to the idea of constitutionalism is that trust among the political actors is being expressed about constitutions being adhered to, and trust in the judicial institutions to oversee the enforcement of constitutional principles in the practice of government. It has been found that mostly young men, typically in their 20s coming from lower middle class or poor backgrounds, tend to organize in movements that exhibit a significant amount of distrust towards the political elite in Tunisia. Such mobilized youth live in either interior rural regions or in the poor slums of big urban cities in coastal regions. Most young men that are mobilized against the Tunisian state are the same young men who revolted against Ben-Ali’s regime in December 2010, demanding economic and personal rights. In general, they tend to see themselves as deeply marginalized actors in a context dominated by secular regimes at the national and the global levels. Tunisian youth have succeeded in the last two years in promoting their existence as a movement, thereby gaining public support by addressing their concerns through their involvement in charitable work, supporting vulnerable families.
The complex and unpredictable process of subjectification undertaken by these young men within the specific historical context of Tunisia is the main focus of this research. 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 member of a youth mobilisation translated into civic and social actions? How far is it possible to reconcile this subjectification with that of being a Tunisian citizen? Consequently, what are the origins of what is commonly viewed as the youth opposition to the modern secular state in Tunisia and elsewhere in the Middle East?
Aims of the project
To examine the factors that led to the constitutional outcome in January 2014;
To examine the historical and contextual intersectional and inter-subjective factors that contribute to the individual’s choice of mobilizing as youth 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.
During her fieldwork in Tunisia, Dr Aitemad Muhanna-Matar met and interviewed a number of young men and women. She presents their stories and reflections in a series of narratives, the first shared below is that of 30-year-old construction engineer Ahmad.
Ahmad: Narrative of a Tunisian Salafist
An Exploratory View of a Field Visit to Study Salafist Youth in Tunisia
Aitemad Muhanna-Matar is a Research Fellow at the Middle East Centre. In 2013, she managed a regional research project funded by Oxfam-GB and run by the LSE MEC in five Arab countries on Women’s political participation across the Arab region: Mapping of existing and new emerging forces in the region. Prior to that, her research concentrated on the historical trajectory of Gazan women’s religiosity, agency and subjectivity, drawing on different discourses of religion and secularism.
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 democratisation. He now works on questions of citizenship, secularism, and constitutionalism in North Africa.