International Day of Democracy: Celebrating Youth Achievements in Tunisia
In September 2018, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) supported the celebration of the International Day of Democracy (IDD) in Tunisia. IDD, which was launched by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007, takes place annually on September 15 and seeks to promote and defend the principles of democracy globally. This year’s celebration in Tunisia built on the success of the country’s previous two celebrations and witnessed record numbers of partnering organizations and attendees. More than 180 Tunisian and international organizations organized their own IDD events, partnered with IFES or spread the word, and 2,430 people attended events throughout the country.
Youth in Focus
Since the first IDD celebration in Tunisia in 2016, IFES has worked to make IDD celebratory so Tunisians can reflect on the progress their country has made toward a democratic transition and creating spaces for civic engagement. This year, IFES placed youth at the center of the celebration by initiating a new IDD sub-event called “IDD Youth Talk,” which aimed to bring together young people who have overcome challenges to share powerful and motivational stories with their peers. In a country where many young people face challenges like under-employment and under-representation in political processes, youth success stories send a message of hope and encourage their peers to seek opportunities for innovation, entrepreneurship and civic engagement.
Supporting Youth and Celebrating Success
Drawing on its extensive network, IFES organized a first-rate line-up for the event. Makki Hlel, a well-known TV presenter, was invited to host IDD Youth Talk and six young Tunisian from different backgrounds were asked to share their stories with an equally diverse audience of 230 young people from all 24 governorates of the country. Abdel Koudous Saadaoui, the state secretary of youth, who is only 35, was also asked to tell his story. IFES also brought in local artists to perform songs and dances between speeches.
Hlel set the tone of the event by identifying the central role of youth in building a sustainable democracy in Tunisia.
"There is no democracy without elections, there is no democracy without youth. You are the youth and you are the pillars of the democracy we are building together in Tunisia.” – Makki Hlel
Saadaoui followed Hlel’s opening remarks with a frank, personal discussion of the difficulties he encountered in his life before his nomination to the government at the age of 34.
The speakers – Mehdi Cherif, Rima Abdelli, Aymen Jbeli, Sabrine Jenhani, Haythem Srihi, and Samia Orosmane – then took turns addressing the audience. Each speaker came from backgrounds such as literature, civil society, minority advocacy, music, sports and theater, and highlighted the diversity of Tunisian youth. The speakers took turns describing how they were able to overcome their own challenges and pursue their personal and professional aspirations, hoping to inspire their peers not to give up in the face of difficulties and obstacles. Jbeli said, “We, young people in Tunisia, can achieve a lot in our life despite the hard life conditions and difficulties. We should have a goal in life, so we can work on achieving it.” Srihi added, “Tunisia, our country, is suffering from many difficulties, but I love it so much and I’m sure that one day it will be better.” In closing, IFES Outreach Manager Khamayel Fenniche said, “Each one of you has to find the quality inside them that pushes them to create something, to move forward in their life and overcome failure.”
These speakers had a strong impact on their audience, provoking laughter, emotions, and reflection. When asked about her feelings at the end of the event, Nourhene Msekni, who is 26 and from Mahdia, said, “I was amazed by the quality of the speakers who were very different; each one of them had a very inspirational success story to share. Thank you IFES team for this great selection.”
Inspiring Their Peers
The success of IDD, and Youth Talk in particular, in inspiring attendees demonstrates the effectiveness of a beneficiary-led approach to engaging youth and encouraging their participation in democratic processes. The audience perceived this difference, as Intidhar Ben Ahmed, a 23-year-old activist from Bizerte, remarked, “This is my first time attending this kind of event and I liked everything about it, from the organization to the speakers and the artists.” IFES’ goal was to mobilize the strengths, accomplishments, and stories of young Tunisians to motivate their peers – in short, youth inspiring youth. In a context in which their elders dominate public space and political and civic discourse and youth’s disaffection with politics is well-documented, creating opportunities for young people to remind each other of their central role in democracy and what they can accomplish is essential to sustaining and advancing Tunisia’s democratic gains. To this end, one of the speakers concluded, “Leaving a footprint in this country, an achievement that people will remember for years, will make me proud and honored.”