Activities & Participations

ASSF president participated in the round table organized by UGTT on the outcome of nine years after the revolution

On 16 January 2020, and under the supervision of its Secretary General, the Tunisian General Labour Union organized a round table entitled “Nine years after the revolution.”

On this occasion, Professor Abdelwahab Ben Hafaiedh gave a lecture on the role of civil society, saying that “the road is unfinished,” and therefore it is necessary to evaluate recent experiences; for instance reflect on the one hand on the link between civil society and the revolution, and on the other hand on the political reality and the future.

Pr. Abdelwahab Ben Hafaiedh confirmed that the issue is important and he raises many questions, including:

– To what extent has the crisis of confidence in political parties affected civil society organizations? And to what extent can the continuous decline of the level of confidence cause protests and uprisings?

– How can the aforementioned crisis be interpreted, mainly after looking at the statistical figures related to the percentage of confidence in civil society that was 62% in 2012, 38% in 2014, 41% in 2016 and 32% in 2019. It is therefore imperative that we should put things into perspective. He mentioned that there are some points that must be given due attention, including:

– The special nature of civil society in Tunisia, as evidenced by the comparative Middle Eastern experiences, which are family-oriented. While what distinguishes civil society in Tunisia is its civic nature that has evolved over the years (effects of recurrence), and in the end, there is an accumulation of historical contexts and events that must be valued. Professor Ben Hafaiedh said that we should not forget that the Tunisian General Labor Union was established from one of the prestigious associations, which is the Al Khaldounia association, in the heart of the Medina of Tunis and in the presence of icons representing the modern and enlightened elites.

– The social trend of civil work; for instance, the emergence of cooperative associations, which was expressed in passing by Mohamed Ali Hami, who was affected by his experience at Humboldt University Berlin in Germany.

– All of these gave special traits to civil society in Tunisia, which has a reforming role (in terms of Thought and culture) and a social-cooperation function.

In general, the Ben Hafaiedh believes that Tunisia has known five waves of civil work, namely:

1) The first wave associated with the First World War.

2) The second wave associated with World War II.

3) The third related to the concept of “national consensus” which has become enshrined in the Tunisian culture during the first elections after independence. A one-party culture that imposed the participation of various professional unions (employment, customs and peasants …) within the unified electoral lists.

4) The fourth wave of disengagement, after the events of January 28, 1978 in relation to the Tunisian General Labor Union, the emergence of the democratic current within the ruling party (Ahmed Mestiri , Hassib bin Ammar… Béji Caïd Essebsi), as well as the emergence of the Tunisian League for Human Rights, and the spread of professional associations.

5) The fifth wave that we live in today, which started by the issuance of Decree No. 88 of 2011, dated September 24, 2011 on the regulation of associations. Ben Hafaiedh also added that if the current figures indicate that there are 18,000 new associations (to be added to the five thousand associations that existed before the revolution), then it must be noted that this number does not take into account the huge number of suspended or closed associations. This confirms that the number of active associations does not exceed 3000. This is a weak and ridiculous number as compared to the comparative experiences in close and similar countries, not to mention the non-similar countries (in France 70 thousand associations are created annually), while the number of associations exceeds one million.

At the end, Pr. Ben Hafaiedh somehow centered the focal question on the nature and extent of the impact that civil society has today on the Tunisian society, and specifically within the context of democratic transition. From this standpoint, he believes that the most important thing in all of what has been said is; to what extent does civil society influence the political reality? To what extent is civil society democratic? How active women are? And why does civil society play the role of a fire engine to compensate for the absence of the state?

Ben Hafaiedh also touched upon international reports related to intersections on civil society and the following levels of analysis:
– The Macro-System
– The Micro-System
– The Meso-System

1) In relation to the Macro-System, the speaker identifies trends, some of which are worthy of attention and some other are negligible: Some associations were involved in extremism without generalization, because the matter remains exceptional, and according to a specific stage. This led to stipulation of this in the report by the EU, which placed Tunisia in the blacklist of 17 “tax havens”.

The speaker also pointed out that, despite many negative aspects, there is something positive, as is the unique experience of the National Dialogue Quartet, in addition to the tumultuous dialogue that accompanied the call for the registration of associations in the National Registry of Institutions RNE that sparked off debate. However, among the contradictions, Pr. Ben Hafaiedh points out that what is remarkable at this stage is the beginning of the slide into something similar to the prior-authorization system, and this is the point that requires the high level of attention and caution.

2) In relation to the Micro-System, the speaker notes that the internal institutional conditions of the associations are witnessing developments in different directions. Some of these are positive, for example, the success of the internal governance of some experiments, and others are less positive, as establishing associations is no longer an easy matter and civil society organisations do no longer respect the requirements of management and governance; and not to mention the public finance complexities.

3) In relation to the Meso-System, Pr. Ben Hafaiedh talked about the importance of the influence of civil society on policymaking in a context that is characterized by freedom of expression. After the revolution, the national dialogue was heard only a few times in a political context. Transition to societal dialogue by relying on a real participatory approach was conducted on a few occasions related the dialogue on health and education only. Here one can talk about the phrase half success / half failure, where the most important factor remains the lack of seriousness of the politician in taking into consideration the outcomes of community dialogues. In addition to the control of professional groups and economic lobbies that fiercely defend their advantages. What actually happened is that the community dialogues did not bear fruition. He affirmed that:

• In term of priority, the role of civil society should not be limited to political rights, but to move forward to economic rights, such as pushing in particular towards a solidarity economy and focus on the local level through the active participation of local associations.

• In addition, this role will continue to keep in trust. The question, then, is how can trust be restored and strengthened? So that level of trust in civil society institutions will not be similar to that of trust in political parties. As all indicators confirm, and according to the World Value Survey, the level of trust in political parties has decreased to 7% in 2019, which could further deepen the crisis of society as a whole.

Pr. Ben Hafaiedh also touched on some studies related to the research on the low level of trust in European unions and the emergence of protests such as “the yellowjackets” likening this through the analytical model of A. Hirshman to the consumer behavior in relation to a specific product that has 3 options:

     – Loyalty to the product offered on the market (political and social offer)

     – Participate through “Voice” by improving the product (political and social offer)

     – Exit, that is, not buying the product (exit), and here the matter is related to the exit and rejection of the system. (A political and social offer)

The professor concluded his presentation by emphasizing that the role of civil society in the consolidation of democracy calls for all to think. It is required that all look at the gains achieved, although they are petty, as indicator of societal maturity. He recalled a saying by J.Huxley, “succeed The moderator of the round-table, Professor Nizar Ben Saleh explained that the presentation of Pr. Abdelwahab Ben Hafaiedh centered mainly on the following:
– Providing a brief history of the establishment of civil society and the social and liberal imprints that characterize it.
– Attention to the strengths and weaknesses of civil society, especially the negative aspects related to extremism and the use of foreign financing and the influence and control of some professional groups.
– The need to reconsider the future role of civil society, while warning of the danger of the exit option, i.e. the exit and rejection of the system.