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.
This inaugural peer cohort of the U.S. – Tunisia Peer Exchange program comprises the following distinguished Tunisian and Arab American public servants and policy practitioners:
American Peer Cohort:
- Mariam Aboudamous, City Council Member, City of American Canyon, California
- Nadia Aziz, Civil Rights Attorney, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Washington, D.C.
- Rania Batrice, Political & Non-Profit Strategist, Lubbok, Texas
- Matt Heinz, former State Legislature, Tucson, Arizona
- Bill Bazzi, City Councilmember, Dearborn Heights, Michigan
- Mariam Bazzi, Judge, Wayne Country, Detroit Michigan
- Annissa Essaibi-George, City Councilor At-Large, Boston, Massachusetts
- Mike Khader, City Council President, Yonkers New York
- Marwan Kreidie, Former Commissioner, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Mazahir Salih, City Councilor At-Large, Iowa City, Iowa
Tunisian Peer Cohort:
- Rawia Amira, Council Member, Municipality of Sfax
- Seif Eddine Belabed, Council Member, Municipality of Tunis
- Doha Bouzid, Council Member, Municipality of Sfax
- Hela Chaabane, Council Member, Municipality of Dar Chaabane El Fehri
- Imed Dabbabi, Council Member, Municipality of Tunis
- Saida Essid, Council Member, Municipality of Dar Chaabane El Fehri
- Raja Gmir, Council Member, Municipality of Tunis
- Walid Bel Haj Hamida, Council Member, Municipality of Dar Chaabane El Fehri
- Imene Karoui, Council Member, Municipality of Sfax
- Sami Khalfallah, Council Member, Municipality of Dar Chaabane El Fehri
- Amel Meddeb, Council Member, Municipality of Tunis
- Mohamed Amine Mejdoub, Council Member, Municipality of Dar Chaabane El Fehri
- Ahmed Missaoui, Council Member, Municipality of Sfax
- Aydi Mohamed, Council Member, Municipality of Sfax