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Tunisian Transition oral history collection, 2015-2017

Project: Tunisian Transition oral history collection,
(see all project interviews)
Phys. Desc. :Transcripts: 1856 pages 69.3 Gigabytes, 313 digital files
Location: Columbia Center for Oral History
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Biographical Note

In late 2010 and early 2011, popular demonstrations beginning in the small city of Sidi Bouzid in central Tunisia swept to Tunis and cities and towns across the country. Protestors called for dignity, jobs, an end to corruption, and for the oligarchic president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to step down. On January 14, 2011 Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, initiating a wave of uprisings in neighboring countries that became known as the Arab Spring. Succession became complicated in the aftermath of the Ben Ali’s abdication. The country cycled through five governments: Mohammed Ghannouchi (Ben Ali’s prime minister), Beji Caid Essebsi (February to December 2011), Hamadi Jebali (December 2011 to March 2013), Ali Laarayedh (March 2013 to January 2014), and Mehdi Jomaa (January 2014 to January 2015). At the end of the Jomaa government, free and fair elections were organized according to the objectives of the revolution. Two "national dialogues" took place, which engaged all parts of society including labor unions, lawyers associations, human rights organizations, veteran and emergent political parties, and non-governmental organizations. At the end of the second national dialogue, a technocratic government (whose members were not affiliated with any political party) was formed to facilitate the process of setting up elections. This government would remain in power for a year only, and help stabilize the security and economic situations until an elected government took power. Mehdi Jomaa, a minister of industry and trade in the Ali Laarayedh cabinet, was appointed as its prime minister. The technocratic government accomplished its mission, with elections being held in late 2014. On February 24, 2015, Mehdi Jomaa addressed Columbia University's World Leaders Forum. Following this event, the Office of University President Lee Bollinger approached the Columbia Center for Oral History Research at INCITE (Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics) to discuss undertaking an oral history project about Tunisia's 2014-2015 technocratic government. The oral history project that grew from this discussion had two objectives: (1) To document and interpret the events of revolutionary and transitional Tunisia (late 2010 to late 2015) from the perspective of prominent transition leaders in the technical government and in civil society, and (2) To understand the technical government as "answer" to outstanding revolutionary demands; and how it was implemented and functioned.

Scope and Contents

The collection's thirty-eight interviews document the Tunisian revolution (2010-2011) and the period of the transitional governments (2011-2014), with a particular emphasis on the technocratic government of Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa (January 2014-December 2015). Consistent with the composition of the technocratic government that it documents, the collection's narrators come from a wide range of expertise: businesspeople, union leaders, NGO leaders, human rights advocates, and bureaucrats in the areas of security, education, economics, and more. Narrators also touch on their childhood memories of Tunisia under Habib Bourguiba or Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, their coming of age in relation to Tunisian politics, and the directions in which their diverse careers took them. They discuss observing the deterioration of possibilities for political pluralism, popular contestation, and basic civil rights in Tunisia during the era of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, often observing this from the Tunisian diaspora in France or elsewhere. They describe their experiences during the 2010 Revolution itself. Many were on the ground in Tunisia, but others watched from abroad. They illuminate the precarious political situation represented by the shutdown of the National Constituent Assembly following the assassinations of prominent opposition leaders Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi in July of 2013. They theorize why some parties were successful in the post-revolution context and others were not. They discuss the proposal of the technical government solution by Hamadi Jebali and offer explanations as to why it was adopted. They also speak to the negotiations necessary between business, government, and labor; the role of technology in the revolution; the writing of the new constitution; the role of economic conditions in stability; and the role of NGO's in Tunisian society under Ben Ali and after the revolution. The narrators offer considerable insight into the character of Mehdi Jomaa himself, as they analyze the formation of his cabinet, his personality, his management style, and his goals. They detail pivotal moments, such as the Ramadan attack on soldiers stationed in Chaambi Mountain and Jomaa's diplomatic visit to the United States. Interviews also address Jomaa's creative political strategies, such as his public relations strategies and his leveraging of his political outsider status to push sweeping and urgent reforms. The collection's narrators are Houcine Abassi, Mohamed Akrout, Hatem Atallah, Chedly Ayari, Lotfi Azzouz, Mohamed Salah Ben Ammar, Mustapha Ben Jaafar, Abderrazek Ben Khalifa, Anouar Ben Khelifa, Abdessatar Ben Moussa, Kamel Bennaceur, Wided Bouchamaoui, Neila Chaabane Hamouda, Nebil Chemek, Syrine Cherif, Mohammed Lassaad Dorbez, Noomane Fehri, Taoufik Habaieb, Rafik Halouani, Najla Harrouch, Fethi Jarray, Emna Jeblaoui, Ghazi Jeribi, Tawfik Jlassi, Mehdi Jomaa, Amel Karboul, Habib Kchaou, Lassaad Lachaal, Hafedh Lamouri, Hedi Larbi, Mohamed Fadehel Mahfoudh, Moncef Marzouki, Mounir Majdoub, Kamel Morjane, Nidhal Ouerfelli, Chafik Sarsar, Ridha Sfar, and Noureddine Zekri. Interviews are comprised of digital audio recordings, digital transcripts, and paper-based transcripts.


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Copyright by the Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York, 2015-2017.

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