Tunisia/ 2. General objectives and principles of cultural policy  

2.1 Main features of the current cultural policy model

Tunisia's first model of cultural policy was designed alongside the "welfare State" framework. Since the 1960s, the State imposed itself to be responsible for national culture and put itself in-charge of the development and the implementation of the cultural policy. This approach led, at the beginning, to the establishment of a centralized public administration followed later by the expansion of public cultural infrastructure to regions. The decision-making process for cultural policy was held by the central level. The media domains were amongst the attributions of the Ministry responsible of the culture sector and the ministry had several names (State secretary for News and Guidance, and the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and News)

From the 1990s, the media domain was excluded from the attributions of the Ministry responsible for the culture sector, and the cultural policy model experienced several adjustments towards encouraging private sector investments in culture and the separation of public institutions from publishing and film domains. As a result, the National Company of Distribution, mandated to diffuse and distribute Tunisian books, was dissolved along with the dissolution of the Tunisian Company for production and cinematographic development which was responsible for film production, import, export and distribution of Tunisian films. Cultural policy has also targeted the decentralization of cultural activity and the reorganization and the development of the Ministry of Culture and its institutions.

Between 1988 and2006 the Ministry of Culture had changed its name five times (the Ministry of Cultural Affairs in 1988, the Ministry of Culture from 1990 until 1992, the Ministry of Cultural Affairs from 1992 until 2001, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Entertainment from 2002 until 2004, the Ministry of Culture and Heritage Preservation from 2005 until2010, and then the Ministry of Culture from 2011 till present (2013)). The structural organization of the ministry and its associated structures were reviewed and changed six times between 1993 and 2005.

Several changes adopted by successive governments since independence aimed to simplify the administrative structure, to promote the role of the private sector and to decentralize regional planning, have produced a hybrid system that combined the “Facilitator Model” and the “Centralized Model”. According to the “Facilitator Model”, the State role is limited to the coordination between all sector stakeholders’ efforts and to assist in the preparation and the formulation of sector policies; whereas, a “Centralized Model” entitles the State to have the exclusive role for the elaboration, implementation and evaluation of cultural policies.

The Tunisian Cultural policy model is characterized by a high concentration on central governmental level. Besides, consultative mechanisms are in place enabling the participation of representatives from civil society, political parties, artists’ federations and trade unions, for example, the Supreme Council for Culture, national consultations, and extended meetings at the Ministry. The ministry has the decision-making authority in appointments to these advisory bodies. In addition, the Ministry of Culture is responsible for the implementation of five-year development plans (five-years) for the development of culture sector and cultural activities supported by the ministry in the country, and for the elaboration of the annual budget, prepared through consultation with regions and governorates.  This structure highlights a certain degree of decentralization applied to programming process, where the decision-making remains utmost at the central level.

The involvement of non-governmental actors in the development of cultural policies typically appeared in national consultations[1] and through the celebration of a specific area, in culture, every year. For example, following the consultation of culture in 2002, the Minister of Culture announced2003 as the "year of the book", and year 2009 was announced «the national year of the Theater” after national consultation was completed in 2008. However, due to the impartiality in assigning the national consultations; which were decided by the Minister of Culture, the participatory concept lost its real effectiveness in such consultative mechanisms and representatives from invited organizations, institutions and associations were expected to be a certain degree of bias to the ruling party.   

Nevertheless, the promotion of private sector and the intensive international cooperation coupled with economic aid policies (for example, civil society empowerment, decentralization of government and economic liberalization) have contributed to the development of culture sector and in the acceleration of the decentralization process. At that time, the Ministry of Culture realized that absolute control was impossible within a very active cultural life (in terms of quantity and quality). Accordingly, the Tunisian model in year 2010 was in the middle of an inflecting stage, from a long history of culture sector monopoly toward a free framework for culture, with continued absence of freedom of expression and creativity.

A study prepared in 2011 and funded by UNESCO concerning the culture sector and employment has shown the following diagnosis of cultural sector:

  • Excessive centralization, a highly specialized bureaucracy and lack of transparency: The centralized structure of the workflow at the Ministry of Culture led to the emergence of a highly specialized bureaucracy which consecutively weakened the effective interconnection between cultural policy and the components and the stakeholders of the cultural sector, in particular with higher education institutions and the employment sector, and with the lack of transparency in decision-making support for artists and cultural production.
  • Permanent loss of cultural resources: the mentioned reasons noticeably reduced interdependence between different cultural areas (arts, heritage, music ...) increased the unemployment rate of graduates of Arts and Heritage reaching up to 28%. Moreover, the absence of an effective stimulation for private investment in the cultural sector aggravated the high unemployment rate between artists, whose resources were mainly limited and depending on the direct financial support provided by the Ministry to national cultural production; similarly the absence of public funding discouraged the sense of adventure in cultural projects. This situation created an ongoing loss of cultural resources, particularly for those qualified to promote the level of cultural production. In addition, the administrative structure of the Ministry did not allow the interdisciplinary connection between different areas of culture sector, which impeded the impact of public investment in culture and the effectiveness of allocated resources by the sector as to enrich the cultural dynamics and to improve quality.
  • The absence of a regulatory framework: the culture sector lacked the appropriate legal and regulatory frameworks that could clarify the nature and the scope of the relationships between its various stakeholders and that could enable the establishment of a clear and a consistent sector strategy. As a consequence, there was an absence of analysis and observation capacity to the various interventions of the ministry, where follow-up was generally based on descriptive figures and data related to infrastructure and accomplished activities, without reference to any specific frameworks for culture sector in terms of concepts or statistics. In addition, the absence of diverse mechanisms for funding the cultural sector narrowed the possibilities to create sustainable funding systems for cultural projects, and reinforced the public sector as the sole major funder of culture sector. The public funding resources had already reached their maximum limits and there were no other major funding resources to sustain sector growth.

The study presented new proposals and projects to overcome the current situation of the cultural policy in Tunisia, and included a project to support the diversity of cultural forms in regions.

When the new government started in 2012 under the supervision of the National Constituent Assembly most ministries pursued solving social issues of their employees while keeping the old system in terms of steering mechanisms. By the end of 2012, the cabinet started making decisions related to reviewing of management mechanisms of different sectors and their associated structures. Cultural policy concerns were based on structural reforms and the strengthening of cultural rights. The new cultural policy had the intention to reform the cultural sector’s operational mechanisms and the underlying principles of cultural policy. The ministry annual report of year 2012 highlighted the themes of interest in cultural policy at this point as follows:


  • Legislative reform due to the current legislative system becoming unable to cope with the current cultural sector needs and to support effectiveness and transparency of cultural rights.
  • Development of partnership mechanisms with civil society toward empowering NGOs (associations) participation in elaborating programs (such as international events and festivals) in partnership with the Ministry.
  • Qualification of human resources and the enhancement of conceptual and executive knowledge and skills of cultural action… "

Most of the preexistent objectives for the culture sector were maintained including those related to increasing the contribution of culture in economic and social development and those related to annual infrastructure projects. The Ministry has issued new legislation that encompassed decentralization objective and the reinforcement of public cultural institutions legal statuses, namely the regional delegations of culture and specialized sector institutions (i.e.  Arab and Mediterranean Music Center (EnnejmaEzzahra), The Hammamet International Cultural Centre (Dar Sébastien)). The involvement of civil society was reinforced by new legal texts for several institutions, for example: civil society participation in the Strategies and Forecasting Council of the National Centre for Cinema and the Image.

[1]National consultations are meeting sessions for exchange and evaluation at high national level and include public organizations and professional cultural actors.

Chapter published: 05-05-2015