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Tunisian Academics to Visit Campus to Learn About Democracy Studies

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March 15, 2013 Tunisian scholars are coming to campus next week to to explore prospects for establishing democracy studies programs in the North African republic.

“Democracy Studies in the New Tunisia,” which takes place March 17-23, is a joint effort of Georgetown’s Democracy and Governance Studies program; the United States Institute of Peace (USIP); and the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED).

The initiative aims to explain to the Tunisian academics how Georgetown goes about teaching democracy and governance studies and structures its curriculum and provide insights from USIP and POMEDexperts.

Eight participants, including representatives from the University of Tunis, the University of Kairouan, the University of Manar, will take part in planning sessions during the week to come up with a list of goals for creating their own democracy studies programs.

Microcosm of Struggles

“The Tunisian public universities have been at the epicenter of the struggles between the Salafists [strict followers of Islam] and the secular intelligentsia,” says Daniel Brumberg, co-director of the democracy and governance program and a USIP senior advisor. “The Salafists have come into the universities and tried to intimidate professors and impose their own agenda… so it’s very much a microcosm of the wider struggles in the Tunisian society which are in part over national identity and the role of the mosque and state.”

Despite the forced exit of President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 after massive anti-government protests and subsequent elections, Tunisians are still dealing with a wide range of political and economic challenges, including tensions between Islamists and secularists.

“So when you’re inviting [these] academics, it’s not purely an academic exercise,” he adds. “It’s very much an echo of the political realities.”

Initiating Discussion

Brumberg says the goal of the initiative is to “first initiate a discussion with our Tunisian academics about what a democracy studies program looks like in the United States.”

“From the very outset we didn’t want to assume any outcome of this initiative or impose a particular vision on anybody,” he says. “We want this to be an open process, a brainstorming session to promote joint thinking.”

Georgetown speakers at the event include Eusebio Mujal-Leon, co-director of the democracy and governance program; Barak Hoffman, director of the Center for Democracy and Civil Society; Rev. Matthew Carnes, S.J., assistant professor of government; Katherine Marshall, senior fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs; and sociology professor Jose Casanova.

The foreign dignitaries will engage in sessions on political economy and development, religion and democratization, democratic transition, human rights, ethnic conflicts, conflict resolution and justice reform.

Next Stop: Tunisia

Future workshops will take place in Tunis in June, allowing Tunisian participants to present their planned curriculum to a wider group of faculty and students spanning an array of ideological perspectives.

The students will provide significant input to form a basis for undergraduate and graduate programs in democratization and conflict resolution in Tunisian colleges and universities.

“Hopefully what would come out of this, if our Tunisian colleagues create their own programs for democracy studies, it would incorporate issues of conflict resolution,” Brumberg says, “but would also have a practical element that would help train Tunisians in the concrete programmatic challenges in promoting democracy and conflict resolution.”

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