Tunisia/ 8.4 Amateur arts, cultural associations and civil initiatives  

8.4.3 Associations of citizens, advocacy groups, NGOs and advisory panels

Since the colonial period and during Habib Bourguiba’s and Ben Ali's eras till the current  period of democratic transition , the cultural sector was marked by the multiplicity of cultural associations and their diversity in areas of intervention and associated topics. The roles and characteristics of these associations differ from one historical period to another in relation to the accompanying social and political framework.

Similar to other cultural sector related data, the follow-up process to the associative activities and civil activities in general within the cultural sector remains mainly hindered by the absence of detailed data concerning the associations’ creation, their methods of performance, their missions and interests. Such deficiency impedes the elaboration of an effective policy that can promote the contribution of civil society in  the cultural sector and in its overall effectiveness. In fact, several attempts by external organizations, such as UNDP, UNICEF, and European Union to study associations in Tunisia, were elaborated and they targeted either specific domains or civil society in general. In addition, the Information, Training, Studies and Documentation Center on Associations (public structure) contributes to the preparation of statistics about the associations in Tunisia since 2000(Decree 688/2000of 5April 2000) though the statistics are of quantitative nature, yet not updated since 2011. 

This data remains incomplete in the absence of an updated mapping of associations, their representation and roles, as well as the absence of qualitative analysis of civil society similar to  indicator "CIVICUS[1]". Future studies about civil society associations in the culture sector may be an opportunity to promote an important element of the cultural sphere.

As highlighted in the report prepared by the European Union in 2012 about civil society in Tunisia[2]the historical periods for civil society in Tunisia, can be divided as follows:

- The colonial era:  characterized by two opposite trends in associations that coexisted peacefully. The first trend was "traditional" and interested in social issues, and the second stream was "modern" that was an extension of French civil society primarily concerned with culture and entertainment.

- Habib Bourguibaera:  characterized by the concept of " the welfare state" where the law 154 of 1959 insisted on the prior authorization for the creation of an association and on the possibility of taking sanctions limiting freedom against members who did not respect the law.

- Ben Ali era: As the system tried to show a more democratic image of Tunisia, the law on associations has been revised and changed on two occasions (in 1986 and in 1992), especially with regard to the development of the information system (Declarative System) and the prevention of membership denial or rejection.

By the end of Ben Ali regime, most associations that had been accepted for operation were in direct or indirect support to the political system, with the exception of associations concerned with human rights and woman's rights, that fought against the dictatorship, and also for certain associations in the fields of environment or culture that have succeeded somewhat in being neutral. All these interactions had conditioned public support to associations as to become  linked to the extent of their involvement in national strategies and policies, as well as the degree of support to the regime in that period.

Since the 14th January 2011, the new era can be described as promising a real evolution for the dynamics of associative environment including cultural associations. Decree 88/2011 dated 24th September 2011 regulating associations has largely facilitated the creation process of associations, including associations interested in arts and culture. It has recorded the creation of more than 2000 new associations in various fields, including 700 association after the elections of 23rd October 2011.  It was observed that the cultural field tended to become a high interest for "old" associations which became much more active and effective after 14th January 2011.

Within the framework of cultural policies, there were several sector and civil initiatives to support associations and to promote their active contribution to the cultural sector.  For example, a forum for heritage related associations was organized in 2012 on the occasion of celebrating the month of heritage. In relation to the axis of cultural policies for development, the German National Commission for UNESCO implemented the "CONNEXXIONS"[3] program that aimed at strengthening the role of Tunisian cultural associations in the execution of cultural policies for development, especially within the framework of the International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Within this framework, several seminars and workshops were organized in 2012 and 2013, including in particular: a seminar on Experience Exchange and the strengthening of the role of cultural associations in local development (2012); the Tunisian Cultural Associations Forum (2013); and workshop on the role of arts in the development of popular districts (2013). The program has contributed to the strengthening of the relations between active cultural associations and to the focus on supporting their contribution to cultural policy and to the democratic movement in general.

Within the axis of building capacity of cultural civil society, five cultural associations from Tunisia have participated in the program "Abbara - 1" of Mawred Thaqafi Foundation (the culture resource[4]) which targeted the operational and managerial empowerment of independent cultural associations with the objective to increase their effectiveness,  through grants dedicated for the program.

Freed from previous barriers to communication within Tunisian civil society, the EU has funded, within the work plan for Tunisia (Neighborhood policy), several initiatives and projects for the benefit of Tunisian civil society, including cultural associations[5]. For example, the project "ARCA" (meaning in Arabic : rising) in cooperation with the German Agency for International cooperation (GIZ) and EU targeted associations in interior areas of the country to develop their capacities in management, projects implementation, and contribution to local development. Other new initiatives that can be said to improve cultural associations role in local development are: the initiative of the citizen journalist (2011), Revolution Festival in Reggueb (2011), and the Human Rights Cinema (2012). 

The ongoing new dynamics contributed to promoting the role of cultural associations in Tunisia that previously were confined only to arts based organizations (e.g. amateur theatre associations – the Tunisian theater federation) and linked with ministry funding. Currently, the culture sector associations are in a restructuring and a reorganizing phase toward developing their capacities in management, funding, networking and in reaching their associations’ mission. The Tunisian civil society in the cultural sector needs national and international support to bring the necessary independence and efficiency that enable its real positioning in the new social and political map of Tunisia.   

[1]CIVICUS indicator is the result of an international non-governmental initiative that aims to follow-up civil society in the world and citizen participation in associative action (For more details: https://civicus.org/csi/index.php )

[2]See note 55

[3]“ CONNEXXIONS” Programme (German Commission for UNESCO) at : http://www.unesco.de/connexxions.html?L=2

[5]List of civil society projects in Tunisia (European Union - 2012)  (In French)at : http://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/tunisia/projects/list_of_projects/stecivile_fr.htm

Chapter published: 05-05-2015