Since the Jasmine revolution of January 14, 2011 that sparked the Arab Spring, Tunisian social and political life has changed considerably. After 23 years of the brutal and corrupt regime of General Ben Ali, the people of Tunisia started to experience the basic preconditions of a democratic state for the first time. Among them are freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and political pluralism, including competitive elections. The intense fear that characterized the 1987-2011 period was suddenly replaced by a general enthusiasm to rebuild government at the state and local level and to promote democratic institutions and practices. Some of this enthusiasm was translated into action with the election of parliament and a head of state, the peaceful transition of power and the promulgation of a new constitution that devotes several articles to decentralization and participatory democracy. Decentralization is an important issue in Tunisia. As Bedis Bouziri points out in our conversation, municipalities have so little autonomy that they cannot even make decisions about sewage or speed bumps.
Things are slowly starting to change, one step at a time. In 2014, Tunisia implemented participatory budgeting projects in four municipalities: La Marsa, Menzel Bourguiba, Tozeur and Gabès. The residents of these four municipalities proposed 63 projects, and after a process of deliberation 29 of them were voted for implementation. To the best of our knowledge, with these four projects Tunisia has become the first North African country to undertake participatory budgeting. On the evening of Sunday, May 17, after the Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy, Decentralization and Participation celebrated at Carthage University, I had the opportunity to talk with Bedis Bouziri, who volunteered as facilitators of the participatory budgeting of La Marsa in its first cycle in 2014 and again in the second cycle that is taking place in 2015. La Marsa is a coastal municipality of 110,000 people located near the capital city of Tunis. Like most Tunisians, Bedis is fluently bilingual in Arabic and French, but he also speaks Spanish and English. Our conversation flowed from English to Spanish to French, but the final transcript of the text is entirely in English.
Tunis, May 27.─ The Tunis Declaration, published at the end of the 5th Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy held from May 14 to 17 in Tunis, calls for the establishment in Tunisia of decentralisation of power through the promotion of participatory democracy.
The latter requires a supportive infrastructure - free people and secure spaces (especially online) and independent citizen media and strong social movements and economic resources and civil society organisations--, the Declaration indicates, while stressing the need to accelerate the organisation of municipal elections, the establishment of local power, fight against corruption and promotion of transparency.
President of the Forum, Bruno Kaufmann said participatory democracy means equality and leadership for all, especially for youth and women.
The Summit of the Americas opened
with 35 heads of state and government present in Panama on Friday,
ushering in the first meeting between the heads of state
of Cuba and the US for over half a century.
At the end of the two-day summit
participants were expected to agree on a series of action points. But why should we care about the Summit?
- What is the Summit of the Americas?
The Summit of the Americas is a meeting of heads of state and representatives from the 35 countries that make up the Americas.
The previous meeting was held in Colombia in April 2012; they are not held at fixed intervals. This meeting, the seventh such gathering, will be held in Panama.
The first ever Summit of the Americas was summoned by Simon Bolivar, the famed "liberator of the Americas", who called a meeting in Panama for newly-independent states in 1826. Marie Arana, author of a 2013 biography of Bolivar, said: "The tensions between the US and Latin America have not really changed since the days of Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams."
Lucerne, Apr.8.─ The International Europe Forum Lucerne is a Swiss platform, which promotes encounters between European representatives of politics, business, science and culture. The title for this year's conference is "Direkte Demokratie auf dem Prüfstand Folgerungen für Wirtschaft und Politik" (Testing Direct Democracy. Consequences for the Economy and Politics). The event will take place in Lucerne on 27 April 2015.