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Oral history interview with Ridha Sfar, 2015

Creator: Sfar, Ridha
Project: Tunisian Transition oral history collection.
(see all project interviews)
Phys. Desc. :Transcript: 57 pages
Location: Columbia Center for Oral History
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Biographical Note

Ridha Sfar is a Tunisian government official. In 2014, he was appointed deputy minister in charge of national security to Minister of the Interior Lotfi Ben Jeddou in the technocratic government. From 1995 to 2013, he served as Central Director of the Permanent Secretariat of the Council of Arab Interior Ministers. From 1982 to 1995, Sfar served in the Ministry of Interior, first as director of external relations (1982-1987) and then as director of training (1988-1995). From 1975 to 1995, he was commissioner of the Ministry of the Interior and commissioner-general of police. Sfar began his professional career at the Ministry of National Economy, and was deputy director of the Bank of Tunisia from 1972 to 1974.

Scope and Contents

Ridha Sfar describes his perspective on Tunisian revolutionary events as Central Director of the Council of Arab Interior Ministers and member of the security community; most foresaw a major upheaval since 2008. He speaks to the dynamic in Tunisia between individuals and the national civil society organizations that seek to represent them. He compares the Habib Bourguiba and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali regimes. He narrates the process by which civil society gave structure to a popular movement in 2011. Sfar explains how Ben Ali rose to power within the security apparatus, was able to further climb the ranks during moments of great crisis in the country, and built an oligarchy. But the uprisings in Gafsa in 2008 showed the fragility of the regime. Sfar does not believe that international support played much of a role in the revolution. He contrasts Ennahda's global Islamist approach to Bourguiba's national union approach, which highlighted Tunisia's exceptionalism through its heterogeneous identity. He details the modifications that both Islamists and secularists needed to make so that their visions were attuned to Tunisian national identity. Sfar then describes how the national dialogue led to Mehdi Jomaa's technocratic government. Sfar was recruited as a minister of security alongside the minister of interior, Lotfi Ben Jeddou, with whom he had worked for almost 30 years. He worked on controlling the growth of jihad, inside the country and in neighboring Algeria and Libya. Sfar explains how his role changed during the technocratic government tenure, and how he worked with Jomaa to ensure that the nation's security apparatus was more horizontal (such as with the crisis cell after the Ramadan attacks on Chaambi Mountain in 2014). Jomaa's team was strong and had a spirit of collaboration and amity, and in this spirit Sfar was convinced not to quit during difficult moments. Sfar details various technological improvements in government communications and informational systems. He elaborates on border control strategies and other ways of combatting organized crime.

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

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