Civic Participation, Engagement And Organized Action: A Case Study Of A Tunisian Activist

By Joni Schwartz, Habiba Boumlik,
Submitted to Session P4922 (Local governance and social accountability reforms in the wake of the Arab Spring, 2017 Annual Meeting
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In mid December of 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, set himself on fire in protest of harassment, humiliation, and the confiscation of his wares by local government authorities. Bouazizi’s act became the catalyst for the Tunisian revolution and more widely for the forthcoming Arab Spring revolts across the Middle East. At this time Amira Yahyaoui, a young female exiled Tunisian activist, was sending videos of the uprising received from her fellow Tunisian activists to the French media and lobbying newspapers to cover the demonstrations in her country.
Yahyaoui’s influence within the collective movement led to regime change through her advocacy from her exile in France via social networks which encouraged people to take to the streets. With President Ben Ali gone, she returned to Tunisia. With her fellow activists, she began the labor of transforming political systems and educating society about civic engagement and the need for governmental transparency – this would be educative work necessary to build a post revolutionary Tunisia. The purpose of this paper is to understand the adult education and participatory democratic work that Yahyaoui spearheaded in post revolution Tunisia.
In this case study, the theoretical frameworks of conscientization and third space are utilized to describe Yahyaoui’s development of the watchdog political organization, al-bawsala, for the purpose of transformative learning and knowledge transmission in regard to political practices toward democracy in Tunisia. The focus will be on platforms used by this non-governmental organization (NGO), Al-Bawsala, to educate and raise political consciousness, namely marsad (parliamentary observatory), debates or town hall meetings between citizens and elected officials, and marsad baladia (municipal observatory) touching on all areas of socio-economic life and social justice. This case study research design included three methods of data collection: phone interviews, extended email exchanges, and content analysis of Facebook, twitter, the Al-Bawsala website and You Tube. The phone interviews and email exchanges with Amir Yahyaoui took place over a three month period from February 2013 – April, 2013. The review of internet data sources began in early 2013 and continue to date. Findings inform participatory adult education strategies from cyber-activism to participatory democracy.