Are Tunisian Youth Really Uninterested in Public Affairs? These Five Youngsters Beg to Differ
Jasmine foundation – During the 5 days of the International Social Forum in Tunisia (March 24th – March 28th), the Jasmine Foundation for Research and Communication participated with a dedicated booth to present its previous work and ongoing projects to a vibrant and eager international audience, distribute its brochures and literature, and hopefully craft some future partnerships with local and international organizations.
In addition to that, JF contributed to the Forum’s proceedings with a round table titled: “Youth and Citizenship: New Ways of Participation” on Thursday afternoon, 26 March 2015. The round table was set to question the common belief that Tunisian youth have become totally and utterly disinterested when it comes to public affairs such as social work and politics. Well, there is some truth to that when we consider the disappointing voter turnout among youngsters in the last parliamentary and presidential elections, or when we consider the low representation of youth at the leadership of political parties and civil society organizations. Yet, aren’t young Tunisians complaining all day long (and nightlong, for that matter) on Facebook about the “mishaps and failures” of their political elite, fervently commenting the current events and happenings and reprising just about everything that is presented on the media? Isn’t that a sign that they do care after all? Our brief yet significant experience at Jasmine Foundation with the youth proved this: once given the right instruments and framework to express themselves and channel their energy, the Tunisian youth can surprise you with their creativity, dedication and memorable deeds.
Our five guest speakers consolidated this reasoning and elaborated on that with their own experiences.
After Dr. Tasnim Chirchi, Director of Jasmine Foundation, welcomed everybody and introduced the topic of the round table and the guest speakers, Ms. Sayida Ounissi was the first to speak and she started by proudly mentioning her involvement with the civil society at a very early age which actually prepared her for her young and promising political career. Knowing that, it comes as no surprise that she ended up being the youngest head of an electoral list in the Tunisian history. Being elected in the new Tunisian parliament (ARP) is a crowning achievement for the young Ennahda member, but the best –and hardest- is yet to come: “Striving to get heard and respected and to be taken seriously in an older and male-inclined environment is a daunting task. But nobody said it was going to be easy: it’s the eternal generations’ showdown where the youth have to go through an everyday battle to take up the baton, even if the older ones aren’t quite ready yet to hand it over”.
Another young and fiery woman shared her experience with the audience: Ms. Ons Ben Abdelkarim, Secretary General of Al-Bawsala (The Compass) association, who spoke of her experience and her colleagues going head to head with municipalities to take what’s theirs in terms of information and data. “It takes fortitude of character and a great deal of courage and determination to sue a municipality for refusing to give away information that it is supposed to make public in the first place”, says the young activist. “But to be able to do that we needed to be professional. All my colleagues are full-time employees at the association and they work with the highest standards”.
Another experience was shared at the round table by Achraf Ayadi from the Tunisian Institute for Human Rights Studies. This young man
champions a cause that may surprise you: the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Although Tunisia doesn’t seem to be particularly concerned by this issue, the world peace depends on it and so do human rights. Achraf Ayadi made the following point very clear: no issue is too “mature” or “sophisticated” for the Tunisian youth to handle. That’s why he is on a mission with his colleagues at the Institute to occupy the public space they deserve to get their voice heard and their fair share of media attention.
Another valid point was made by the next speaker: “It’s never too late to get involved!” said Mr. Anas Saidi, who works at the Office of
Economic Cooperation for the Mediterranean and the East (OCEMO), and he added: “But it’s preferable that you start with small community projects near your house.. Then you can work your way up to bigger endeavors.” Anas Saidi is famously known for smartly getting the private sector involved in his highly-acclaimed campaign to refurbish many of the Tunisian schools that were in bad shape, mainly in inland Tunisia.
The final testimonial came from one of the Jasmine Foundation team members: Mr. Bilel Mannai who is the coordinator of the C-C-Forum
program (Chabeb Constitution Forum). C-C-Forum has been one of the flagship and most successful programs of the Foundation so far. Mr. Bilel spoke of his experience of getting in touch with youngsters in one of the toughest and most underprivileged neighborhoods in suburb Tunis: “Attadhamon” neighborhood. At the beginning, it seemed to be a “Mission Impossible”, but little by little, Mr. Bilel and his teammates managed to grab the attention of those youngsters. He recalled: “Once we got their attention, they had become insatiable! We were organizing focus groups, offering them trainings and workshops, and tasking them with several mini-projects, and they were always eagerly asking for more!” And then he added: “The power of youth is unlimited, and there is an astonishingly-untapped potential in those areas”.
The massive audience that completely filled the lecture hall was very responsive to the five youngsters’ testimonials and they engaged with them in questions and conversations as they wanted to learn more about and from each one of them. Some of the attendees were from foreign countries and they exchanged contact information with the guest speakers to carry on the discussion with them and eventually forge partnerships between their respective organizations.
All in all, the masterfully-moderated round table by our colleague Ms. Ghofrane Ounissi was a great opportunity to debunk one of the most widespread misconceptions about Tunisian youth in a very candid way, and also to keep the discussion going as future round tables will be organized by the Jasmine Foundation in the future.