A bold new programme on civil society to be taught in the birthplace of the Arab Spring

The Tunisian revolution that sparked the Arab Spring when young fruit seller Mohamed Bouazizi immolated himself over two years ago was not just about fighting greed and corruption. It was about human rights and education. Bouazizi’s sacrifice marked the beginning of a continuing journey across the Arab world. The path has proven difficult. The hopes of 2011 led to realities in 2012, which included violence and concerns about fundamentalists crushing the aspirations of liberal democrats.

To support the process of change in Tunisia, the Council of Europe now welcomes the “Tunisian School of Politics” (TSoP) to its network of 16 existing schools. The objective of the schools is to train future generations of political, economic, social and cultural leaders in countries in transition. TSoP was set up last year by the Centre des études méditerranéennes et internationales (CEMI) together with partners from Finland and The Netherlands, as well as the Bulgarian School of Politics to train young members of political parties. The school runs annual courses of seminars and conferences on topics such as democracy, human rights, the rule of law and globalisation, social cohesion and gender equality, and practical leadership skills, with the participation of national and international experts.

On 8 January, the school will inaugurate its first course cycle supported by the Council of Europe, enlarging the circle of eligible participants to the entire Tunisian civil society. Course cycles will include studies in Strasbourg.

Students, aged between 25 and 40, will represent a progressive 50-50 gender ratio and will include journalists, young businesspeople, union delegates and representatives of various political parties.

They will study examples of societies in transition with specific coursework on how to hold free and fair elections. Human rights concepts will be discussed, in particular why human rights are an integral part of any democratic state. Finally, a fourth section will address freedom of expression and the “culture” of democracy.
Since the creation of the first school of political studies in Moscow in 1992, by a group of civil society activists seeking to promote democratic values, a number of new schools have been set up along the same lines. Today the network includes 16 schools covering the whole of East and South-East Europe and the Caucasus, and two new Schools in North Africa, in Tunisia and Morocco.