How Tunisia Became the Only Democracy to Emerge from Arab Spring

Wed, Mar 14    6:30pm

Join us for a conversation between the book's author Professor Safwan M. Masri, EVP for Global Centers and Global Development, Columbia University and Benjamin Harvey ('05JS) Turkey Bureau Chief, Bloomberg about “Unfinished Revolutions: How Tunisia Became the Only Democracy to Emerge from the Arab Spring.”

About the Talk

Seven years ago, the self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit and vegetable vendor inspired a nation to stand up against a corrupt, authoritarian regime and demand a better future. Inspired by Tunisia’s example, Arab publics rose up in expectant defiance, first in solidarity and then for change in its own right at home, setting into motion a domino effect that became known as the “Arab Spring.” But was there really an Arab Spring, or is the term actually a misnomer? Is a “Tunisian Spring” a more apt descriptor, given where Arab Spring countries, with the exception of Tunisia, have ended up? Some have failed to bring about democracy, most crushingly in Egypt, which seemed to have been on a promising path. Other countries either brutally but effectively quieted dissent or became scenes of civil war, chaos, displacement, and utter disintegration.

Drawing on his recent book, Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly (Columbia University Press, 2017), Professor Safwan Masri will examine the factors that contributed to Tunisia’s experience after the Arab Spring, focusing on the country’s history of reformism in the domains of education, religion, and women’s rights. He will use the case of Tunisia to shed light on the state of affairs in the broader region, exploring themes such as Islamism, education, democracy, and reform. Masri will argue that the factors that helped Tunisia have not only been missing in other Arab counties, but an opposite, regressive trajectory has been followed in much of the rest of the region.

Professor Safwan M. Masri is Executive Vice President for Global Centers and Global Development at Columbia University, and a Senior Research Scholar at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). He joined Columbia in 1988 as a member of the faculty of Columbia Business School and served as Vice Dean from 1993-2005. Masri is a scholar of the contemporary Arab world and is the author of Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly (Columbia University Press, 2017). He previously taught engineering at Stanford University and was a visiting professor at INSEAD (Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires) in France.

Benjamin Harvey has been covering Turkey as a journalist since 2005, when he was the AP's newsman based in Istanbul, with other stints in Egypt, Israel and Turkmenistan. He began working for Bloomberg in 2010, first as a politics reporter in Ankara, then as a reporter on the emerging markets-equities team in Istanbul. He's been bureau chief since 2012. In 2017, with the launch of a Turkish-language service, he oversaw expansion of the bureau into one of the largest foreign news operation in Turkey, with 16 reporters covering government, the economy, markets, business and finance. He's a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism ('05) and Wesleyan University ('01).