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Five years after the Arab Spring: Is Tunisia the only success?

Five years after the Arab Spring it seems as if the only sign of success is in Tunisia. But is that really the case? The Leiden University Centre for the Study of Islam and Society (LUCIS) is organising a panel discussion on this topic on Friday 12 February.

Domino effect

Even the biggest fires start with a small spark. The fire that set off the Arab Spring was lit by Tunisian Mohammed Bouazizi, who set fire to himself on 18 December 2010 in frustration at the lack of social prospects in his country. Bouazizi, who died as a result of his action, could probably never have imagined the domino effect that his act of defiance was to have. Revolutions, protests and revolts in a large part of the Arab world, and a civil war in Syria that still has the world in its grip. 

Jasmine revolution

... ook wel de Jasmijnrevolutie genoemd.

In a region that has the monopoly on conflict, Tunisia seems to be the only exception. The panel discussion organised by LUCIS, entitled   Tunisia is the way, points out the exemplary function that the country holds in the view of many experts. The Jasmin Revolution, as the specific Tunisian revolution is called, has led to the first free elections the country has ever had. In 2015 the ‘Quartet for National Dialogue in Tunisia’ was even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. 


Professor of Arabic Language and Culture Petra Sijpestein is one of the organisers of the panel discussion. According to Sijpesteijn, the key question is: ‘Is Tunisia an exception or not? Is this really a success story? Is the country an example? And the next question is, of course: Can the Tunisian situation be copy-pasted to other countries?’ 

Ideal conditions?

Petra Sijpesteijn
Prof. Petra Sijpesteijn

According to Sijpesteijn, it is not yet clear to what Tunisia can thank its favourable exceptional position. ‘One possibility is the unity of the country, that some people believe we can trace back to the 11th century,’  she explains. ‘ Others put it down to the significance of President Habib Bourguiba, who in the 70s put a lot of emphasis on the ideal conditions, or having the right people in the right place at the right time.’ 


Sijpesteijn also emphasises the question of whether we can really talk of a success. ‘ Tunisia has had some bloody attacks,’  she explains, ‘and the country if one of the main providers of jihadists to Islamic State and Libya. So there is the chance that people with malicious intentions accept the situation in public, but behind the scenes they are involved in attacks and other forms of resistance.’  


The panel members consisted of academics and activitists from the Tunisian National Dialogue Quarter who led the national dialogue in the aftermath of the Jasmine Revolution and who won the Nobel Peace Prize. Sijpesteijn: ‘It promises to be an exciting debate. The speakers are directly involved and so don’t have to keep an academic distance. That makes such a meeting very accessible for non-experts. Not only that, it’s good to look at what is actually going well, not just at all the problems in Syria and Iraq. The Middle East isn’t a single system where every country reacts the same. It’s good to be aware of the differences.’  

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Panel:  Tunisia is the way
Friday 12 February 2016
15.15-17.00 hrs.
Lipsius, room 003, Cleveringaplaats 1, Leiden

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