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Oral history interview with Houcine Abassi, 2016

Creator: Abassi, Houcine
Project: Tunisian Transition oral history collection.
(see all project interviews)
Phys. Desc. :Transcript: 14 pages
Location: Columbia Center for Oral History
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Biographical Note

Houcine Abassi was born in Sbikha, Kairouan, Tunisia on August 19, 1947. His professional career began as a teacher, and in 1973 he was promoted to Secondary Education Advisor. He was elected to the General Supervisors' Union in 1983. In 1997, he was elected to the Kairouan Regional Labor Union and in 2002 became its secretary-general. During the 2006 Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) congress in Monastir, he was elected to its center responsible for legislation. In 2011, he became the Secretary General of the UGTT. In 2013, he became part of the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, which was awarded the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize for its contributions to building a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia.

Scope and Contents

Houcine Abassi describes the Tunisian independence movement and ensuing state-building initiatives as a social revolution. He speaks to transformations in values, aspirations and economic conditions in post-colonial Tunisia, from the vantage point of a primary school in Kairouan affiliated with Habib Bourguiba's Destour Party. He narrates the changing role of the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) in a one-party system that grew increasingly autocratic; and its necessary coexistence with a "tyrant" before the revolution, in order to continue serving Tunisian citizens. The UGTT researched imbalances in regional development. The revolution came as a surprise, but the UGTT continued to work with the civil society coalitions it had built prior to regime change. Abassi then discusses attempts during the transition to drive a wedge between Islamists and secularists. The assassinations of Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi in 2013 motivated the creation of the Quartet to accelerate the national dialogue. Abassi describes the Quartet's process, detailing both private and public meetings and the absence of media coverage therein. He acknowledges that these processes gained international recognition, and comments on political parties' roles. He explains the Troika government's failures. Finally, he discusses the singularity of the Tunisian experience, and key elements of democracy in general.

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Copyright by the Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York, 2016.

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