Panel 1c Tunisia: Political Islam, Socio-demography and New Media in the Jasmine Revolution

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Chair: Dr Claire Spencer, Head of Middle East & North Africa Programme, Chatham House

Paper 1
Explaining the Success of Ennahda in the October 2011 Elections in Tunisia

Dr Francesco Cavatorta, Senior Lecturer in the School of Law and Government, Dublin City University

This paper examines the long-term social trends that characterised Islamism in Tunisia since the 1990s, and argues that these have been decisive in determining not only the success of the Ennahda party but, crucially, its transformation from what it was in the 1980s, when it was internally banned, until after the 2011 Revolution. Economic, social and demographic transformations coupled with international events have given rise to expressions of ‘Islamism’ that cannot be easily reconciled with the practices of an organised party like the old Ennahda. Social groups and individuals have appropriated Islam as a core part of their identity despite the regime’s repression during the Ben Ali era. This ‘new’ Islam(ism) understood better in terms of ‘social movement’ has been in many ways opposed to Ennahda which represents political, institutionalized Islam. The meeting of the two in the aftermath of the Tunisian revolution resulted in the transformation of the party and the access of social Islam to institutional politics.

Paper 2: Social Media and Civic Engagement in the Arab World: The Case of Tunisia
Dr Mohamed Zayani, Associate Professor, Georgetown University

The use of new media to organize protests, mobilize support and instigate change has not only shaken an ingrained culture of control and censorship, but also redefined the relationship between media and political change in a region that has long subsided under authoritarianism. If new media are important it is because they helped redefine the terms of civic engagement, giving an articulation to a new consciousness. The insistent question is no longer how media engender political change but how seemingly de-politicized youth become politicized on the Internet. Such formulations brings us face to face with a set of interrelated questions which this paper will attempt to address: (1) How do we theorize the relationship between media and politics outside the traditional role media play in democratic societies? (2) How do we understand the role of media outside the confines of the political register strictu sensu? (3) How to reinstate media dynamics within broad but evolving socio-cultural and political dynamics?

Paper 3: The Tunisian media ‘revolution’ under the political transition
Dr Fatima El-Issawi, Visiting Research Fellow, LSE

The mainstream media sector in Tunisia is witnessing a thorny and dynamic reconstruction process. Misused for years as a tool for propaganda, the traditional Tunisian media are undergoing a revival after the overthrow of the dictatorship of Ben Ali. The modernisation of this sector faces many challenges: changing institutional media practices, amending the regulatory framework, empowering journalists to acquire a new awareness of the nature of their role and finding the missing link between new and traditional institutional media. Behind these headlines lie a subtle series of battles that reflect the current political struggle: secular vs Islamist media trends, young vs old, media management and the problem of the former ‘trumpets’ of the old regime. This paper is based on the findings of a field investigation undertaken by the researcher within the framework of the current ‘Arab Revolutions: Media Revolutions’ project hosted by the Polis media and society think tank at LSE and funded by Open Society. The research is striving to reflect the ‘media revolution’ from the perspective of the newsrooms of institutional media, taking into account such different actors as journalists, editors, professional unions, legal frameworks, relationships to social media and to the new political sphere.

These are abridged versions of the abstracts submitted by  the presenters.
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