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The State of Tunisia's Democratic Transition and the Power and Perils of Consensus Politics

By: | posted on: Feb 19, 2020

Date(s) - 02/19/2020
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm

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The Middle East Institute


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Following elections in September and October, Tunisia is having difficulty forming a government, in part because of the collapse of the 2016 Carthage Pact. MEI is pleased to  feature several of the leading analysts of Tunisian politics, who will attempt to answer which approach can produce forward motion while at the same time prevent Tunisia from slipping backward towards authoritarianism.

Some parties are defending the consensus model to preserve democratic gains, and others are pursuing to force change based on their political preferences. Presiding over all of this is a populist president without a political party who has in the past proposed a radical overhaul of the entire system, abolishing political parties, and creating a form of direct democracy. It is unclear if Tunisian democracy can survive any of these scenarios, whether it be consensus politics, majoritarian politics, or antipolitics. With any of the formulas, winners win, and losers can easily become spoilers, as nearly happened in 2013 with opposition protests led by the women’s movement.

Speaker Biographies:

Daniel Brumberg
Daniel Brumberg is Director of Democracy and Governance Studies at Georgetown University and a Senior Non-Resident Fellow at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED).From 2008 through 2015 he also served as a Special Adviser at the United States Institute of Peace. In addition to his position at Georgetown, he has served as Visiting Professor of Kuwait-Gulf Studies at Sciences Po in Paris and continues to serve as a faculty member for the St.Martin-Georgetown University Program in Public Policy in Buenos Aires. His articles have appeared in leading print and on-line journals including the Journal of Democracy, and His books include Reinventing Khomeini, The Struggle for Reform in Iran, (University of Chicago Press) and “Identity and Reform in the Muslim World, Challenges for US Engagement” (USIP Press), co-edited with Dinah Shehata, and most recently, “Power and Political Change in Iran,” co-edited with Farideh Farhi and published by Indiana University Press.

Sharan Grewal
Sharan Grewal is an Assistant Professor of Government at the College of William & Mary, and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. He received a PhD in Politics from Princeton University in 2018. His research examines democratization, security studies, and political Islam in the Arab world, especially Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria. Sharan’s work has been published or is forthcoming in the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Comparative Politics, International Organization, International Studies Quarterly, the Journal of Conflict Resolution, and Middle East Journal. He has also written for Foreign Policy, The Washington Post, Brookings, and Carnegie, among others. Sharan has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, AFP, Al-Jazeera, Al-Monitor, Al-Ahram, The Times, The Telegraph, The National, Middle East Eye, among others.

Mohamed-Dhia Hammami
Mohamed-Dhia Hammami is a scholar at Wesleyan University in the College of Social Studies and Government. He previously studied mathematics in the University of Tunis and statistics and data analysis in the University of Carthage. Since the Tunisian revolution of 2011 that led to the Arab Uprisings and until going to Wesleyan University in 2016, Mohamed had a diverse professional experience that allowed him to immerse fully in the Tunisian political sphere and develop an advanced understanding of post-revolution politics in Tunisia. His research interests include, but are not limited to, social contestation, authoritarianism, corruption, and political ideologies. 

Sabina Henneberg
Sabina Henneberg holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C. Her doctoral dissertation focused on the first interim governments in Tunisia and Libya following the 2011 uprisings; she is currently continuing to research and publish as a postdoctoral fellow in the African Studies Program at SAIS. Dr. Henneberg has worked for American Institutes for Research and Creative Associates International in international education and civil society development in Africa and the Middle East, as well as Latin America. She has also worked with other organizations on human rights and gender issues. She also taught English for two years at Nankai University in Tianjin, China. Dr. Henneberg is a 2015 Cosmos Scholar and Boren fellowship recipient.

William Lawrence, moderator
William Lawrence is a visiting professor of political science and international affairs at American University. He has 34 years’ experience working on the Middle East and Africa region and wider Muslim world and lived for 15 years in seven Muslim-majority countries and France. Since 2011, he has served successively as International Crisis Group’s North Africa Project Director, as the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy’s Middle East and North Africa Programs Director, and as Control Risk’s Middle East and North Africa Associate Director. Previously, he served as Senior Advisor for Global Engagement in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES), working closely with the White House on core Obama administration Cairo-speech-related initiatives. He co-created the Global Innovation Through Science and Technology (GIST) Program, the U.S. Science Envoy Program, and the Maghreb Digital Library; co-chaired the U.S.-Egypt S&T development fund for four years; and served at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, helping negotiate the first U.S.-Libya bilateral agreement in decades. He also co-produced 6 MENA-related documentary films and 14 albums of North African music.


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