The Tunisian Ambassador to Japan, Elyes Kasri, delivered a lecture at UNU Headquarters on Tuesday, 17 April 2012, to UNU postgraduate students and interns as part of the UNU Ambassador Lecture Series. The lecture by Ambassador Kasri focused on the democratic transition in Tunisia and its aftermath.
Ambassador Kasri presented a comprehensive overview of Tunisia’s recent history, highlighting the country’s rich identity of Mediterranean, North African and Arab peoples and cultures. He explained how the country was shaken by a series of large-scale political and social protests that led to a drastic regime change, when in January 2011 then-President Ben Ali was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia after a 23-year rule.
Tunisia became the birthplace of the “Arab Spring”, its events sparking similar protests in other countries in the Arab world. More than a year after the events, the international community remains focused on Tunisia. The country is considered by many as a model for an orderly, civilized and democratic transition of government.
The Ambassador expounded on the progress made by the interim government and the challenges that still lie ahead. He underscored the fact that Tunisia is not endowed with copious amounts of natural resources — a double-edged sword that has benefited some states but trapped others into oil dependency. Tunisia has not fallen into the resource trap, but instead focuses on its population as a means to achieve economic development. In light of this, the Ambassador stressed the importance of job creation for countless young Tunisians. Although many hope that the arrival of democracy will soon be followed by increased opportunities in the job market, the Ambassador warned that this is not an easy process.
Students enjoyed the opportunity to engage with the Ambassador during a lively question and answer session. Questions brought to the forefront specific aspects of Tunisia’s path to democracy, including the vulnerability of minorities within modern Tunisian society and the role of Islamists in the interim government. Students also expressed interest in Tunisia’s relations with Sub-Saharan African (SSA) nations. Ambassador Kasri noted with regret that the previous regime had limited and shrunk the scope of cooperation with SSA states, thereby isolating Tunisia within the region at a time when the country could have played a more prominent role.
When the question arose on how former President Ben Ali would be prosecuted, Ambassador Kasri stressed the importance of avoiding vindictive justice that has been the trademark of many revolutions. He concluded the session by saying, “One cannot correct an injustice with another injustice. We have to show that this is a new phase in Tunisia’s history.”
This lecture presented the University students with a unique opportunity to engage with an Ambassador on a very important and timely topic.