Members of AAIF’s Leadership Council Visit Tunisia as part of the Inaugural Cohort of the U.S.-MENA Experiential Partnership

Posted by Tess Waggoner on March 30, 2019 in Blog

The Arab American Institute Foundation (AAIF) led a delegation of 10 Arab American elected officials and policy practitioners on an experiential learning trip to Tunisia between March 7 and 18th, 2019. The trip was part of the inaugural peer cohort of the U.S.- Tunisia Peer Exchange Program, supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). The US peer delegation traveling to Tunisia was led by AAIF Executive Director, Maya Berry, and included 10 current and former Arab American elected officials and policy practitioners, who were matched with 14 newly elected Tunisian municipal officials from Tunis, Dar Chaabane El Fehri and the city of Sfax, Tunisia. This innovative year-long peer exchange program is a unique, one of a kind learning initiative designed to support newly elected public officials in Tunisia as they work to create a more transparent and responsive society.

The Arab American delegation began this historical trip by a visit to the U.S. Embassy in Tunis for a briefing with U.S. Ambassador Donald Blome, who subsequently hosted the American delegation and their Tunisian counterparts at a private reception at the Ambassador’s residence.

US and Tunisian peers meeting with Mr. Fadhel Mahfoudh, 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Winner and Tunisia’s Minister in charge of relations with constitutional bodies, civil society and human rights’ organizations.


During the visit to Tunisia, the Tunisian and American peer cohort met with a number of senior Tunisian government officials, including Mr. Zied Laadhiri, Minister of development, investment and international cooperation, Mr. Fadhel Mahfoudh, Minister in charge of relations with constitutional bodies, civil society and human rights’ organizations, Ms. Saida Louinissi, Minister of employment and vocational training, Ms. Basma Jebali, Secretary of State to the minister of local affairs and the environment, Mr. Mondher Bousnina, President of the decentralization agency, and with Mr. Chawki Tbib, head of the national anti-corruption agency.

US and Tunisian peers on a listening tour with students from Carthage University.

As part of the experiential trip, the AAIF delegation also visited the home-municipalities of its Tunisian counterparts. In Tunis, the American and Tunisian peers observed a public hearing on the restoration of the old Madinah of Tunis and attended a briefing with Ms. Souad Abdelrahim, Mayor of the city of Tunis. The peer cohort  traveled to the municipality of Dar Chaabane El Fehri and visited with its Mayor, Ms. Saida Essid, and observed a public hearing soliciting community and civil society input on a municipal project to conduct a survey of constituent service delivery. The peer cohort also traveled to the city of Sfax, the second largest and leading industrial city in Tunisia, where they toured the historical municipality building, and met with Mr. Mounir Elloumi, Mayor of Sfax, to discuss the successes and challenges the city is facing in promoting public-private partnerships and the restoration and preservation of historical buildings to promote tourism.

AAIF’s Program Director, Elly Rostoum said,

“One of the most rewarding aspects of this peer exchange has been witnessing the mutual admiration between the Tunisian and the Arab American peers. Our Tunisian counterparts have been really inspired by the distinguished record of Arab Americans in public service. That same feeling has been echoed on the American side, as well. We have simply been in awe of everything the Tunisian peers have been able to accomplish in the short 7 months since their historical municipal elections. Their enthusiasm and steadfast commitment to public service and democracy is truly inspiring.“

During the 10-day experiential trip, AAIF convened three working sessions with leading policymakers, civil society activists and private sector experts where the peer cohort discussed pressing issues around decentralization, the role of public private partnerships in economic development, and the state and future of civil society organizations in Tunisia. AAIF also held a listening tour for the peer cohort with students, youth and women’s empowerment organizations, members of the media, and with female members of parliament.

A Tunis resident advocating for the restoration and preservation of her home during a municipality public hearing.

Over the next 12 months, the American and Tunisian peer cohort will continue to collaborate to share best practices, seek guidance, and discuss their experiences creating community-based solutions for local constituencies. AAIF is delighted to be welcoming the Tunisian peers to the United States in the fall to discuss concretizing key policy action plans the cohort is collaborating on, underscoring the democratic capacity building aims of the program.

Our hope is that the best practices and successes of the Tunisian cohort can be replicated throughout the Middle East and North Africa region.


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