Tunisia Celebrates International Day of Democracy
From September 15-18, 2016, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) organized a celebration for International Day of Democracy with the support and participation of 82 Tunisian and international organizations.
Since its establishment by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007, International Day of Democracy, which occurs annually on September 15, has served as a time for promoting and defending the principles of democracy. In this spirit, IFES’ International Day of Democracy celebration provided an opportunity for Tunisians to reflect on the progress of their country’s democratic transition and promoted civic engagement in democratic processes. The events were supported by funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
The celebration’s opening ceremony on September 15 was led by IFES 2016 Joe C. Baxter Award recipient Chafik Sarsar, the President of the High Independent Authority for Elections (ISIE), and Mehdi Ben Gharbia, the Minister for Relations with Constitutional Bodies, Civil Society and Human Rights. In his remarks, Sarsar said, “It was not possible nor appropriate to celebrate democracy before. But today, we can proudly do so thanks to the democratic advancements that have taken place in our country.”
ISIE President Chafik Sarsar speaks at the opening ceremony for IFES Tunisia’s International Day of Democracy celebration.
During the opening ceremony, IFES hosted a civil society village where local organizations had the opportunity to share their work with the public. IFES also presented awards to the four winners of its photo contest, whose photographs, which showed their perspective on democracy, received the most “likes” on the International Day of Democracy Facebook page.
Over the course of four days, a series of events, including roundtables, workshops, debates and art performances organized by IFES and other international and local organizations, took place. While many of the events were held in the capital city of Tunis, 47 events occurred in 15 other governorates. Activities focused on crucial topics for the country’s democratic transition, including transparency, citizenship, human rights, decentralization, elections and the role of women, persons with disabilities, youth and other marginalized populations in political life. These events fostered active discussions between civil society activists, government representatives and the general public about Tunisia’s future.
The International Day of Democracy celebration also provided a venue for artists and the general public to express their vision of democracy through music, poetry, dance, film and theater. In Tunis, IFES hosted an Art and Citizenship Space on Avenue Habib Bourguiba with activities like graffiti and calligraphy sessions for children, awareness-raising sessions, citizen forums, and breakdancing performances. All told, the International Day of Democracy events, which were open to the public, gathered over 5,000 participants.
Canadian Ambassador to Tunisia Carol McQueen, who attended the opening ceremony, stated that local organizations’ participation in and contribution to the International Day of Democracy celebration revealed “the extent to which Tunisian civil society is dynamic and vibrant, and how they are really working to make the Tunisian project of democracy succeed.” IFES hopes that the International Day of Democracy will continue to bring different segments of Tunisian society together to celebrate shared democratic values in years to come.