Transforming Tunisia

The role of civil society in Tunisia’s transition

Street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation ignited protest throughout Tunisia in December 2010.

Bouazizi’s response to the confiscation of his fruit cart by President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s regime officials resonated throughout Tunisia and the wider Arab world. A personal protest in a provincial city of Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia’s interior became the point of departure for the Arab “Spring”. In a matter of weeks, people were unified in a series of uprisings against their respective authoritarian governments. Driven by socio-economic deprivation, young politically disenfranchised, socially marginalised and unemployed citizens across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) marched demanding a political voice. Tunisians triggered a wave of home-grown uprisings, many of which became revolutionary movements across the Middle East. Broad-based independent associations of people across the Arab world mobilised to exert popular pressure on the government and the state. These independent associations of people, including non-governmental organisations (NGOs), community groups, labour unions, charities, political, professional and faith-based associations defined by the World Bank as civil society organisations (CSOs), unified in unprecedented demands for political representation, free association and regime change.