Tunisian Exceptionalism: The Role of Civil Society in Tunisia’s Transition

Erdoğan Şafak A.

JOURNAL OF SOUTH ASIAN AND MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES, vol.45, no.4, pp.67-83, 2022 (Peer-Reviewed Journal)

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 45 Issue: 4
  • Publication Date: 2022
  • Journal Indexes: Periodicals Index Online, American History and Life, ATLA Religion Database, Historical Abstracts, Index Islamicus, MLA - Modern Language Association Database, Political Science Complete
  • Page Numbers: pp.67-83
  • Yıldız Technical University Affiliated: Yes


Even under authoritarian rule and despite several limitations, Tunisian civil society formed a counterweight to the state power by making up a sphere of civilian activity beyond the state. Unlike many other countries in the region, the authoritarian leaders in Tunisia allowed and even publicly encouraged the growth of some forms of civil society which were not disentangled from the liberal economic development strategy adopted by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Tunisia was one of the first countries to disengage from “Arab socialism” and it pursued a liberal development strategy, creating a strong private sector and the cultural norms of entrepreneurship and individuality.1 Rather than repressing civil society entirely, Ali pursued a selective liberalization policy and adopted state-monopolized civil society framework, which enabled him to advocate for economic development and, at the same time, get rid of the pluralist effects and democratizing consequences of civil society.