Posted on September 17, 2019 in Press Releases



CONTACT: Tess Waggoner | | (202) 429-9210


Washington, D.C. – The Arab American Institute Foundation (AAIF) welcomed the inaugural cohort of the U.S. – MENA Experiential Partnership in Washington, D.C. in September. The Partnership is a pioneering initiative spearheaded by the Arab American Institute Foundation, with support from the U.S. State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). The partnership pairs Arab American public servants with newly-elected officials in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region for a year-long co-mentorship exchange that champions decentralization, good governance and public private partnerships. Tunisia has been chosen for the inaugural cohort of the U.S.-MENA Experiential Partnership. The visiting Tunisian delegation comprises 12 Tunisian municipal officials who were part of the historic 2018 Tunisian elections, which ushered in the first generation of elected officials at the local and city level. The delegation’s visit to the United States is part of an experiential learning trip designed to expose the Tunisian peers to American democratic institutions and systems of governance.

The delegation began its experiential learning visit with a U.S. State Department briefing at MEPI’s offices with officials from the Bureau of Near eastern Affairs and MEPI. Dr. Rita Stephan, the Director of MEPI, welcomed the delegation and reiterated the importance of U.S. international programing to promote diplomacy and democracy abroad. The Tunisian delegation also meet with member organizations of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, including American Civil Liberties Union, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, Leadership Conference, LGBTQ Task Force, Muslim Advocates, and the National Disability Rights Network, and with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law. These engagements highlighted the role of an active and empowered civil society in a healthy, participatory model of democratic governance. The Tunisian peers also participated in a journalists’ roundtable with leading Arab American media personalities to discuss the important role of the media in strengthening the democratic process, and attended a lunch and briefing at Facebook’s Washington, D.C., offices, discussing issues of civic engagement and disinformation on the Facebook platform.

The Tunisian delegation visited the offices of the Arab American Institute Foundation, where they participated in a coaching seminar with Dr. James Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute, on the role of an active citizenry in the American political system and the importance of Arab Americans’ engagement in public service.

“The Arab American Leadership Council has been pivotal in acting as a bridge of understanding. The U.S.-MENA Experiential partnership is designed to empower Arab American officials to be stronger advocates for better policies, while also establishing a strong relationship between both peoples to overcome the East-West divide.”

The Tunisian delegation spent a day-long, intensive good governance training seminar, focused on skill development in conflict resolution, models of community engagement, ethics and transparency, and best practices in municipal governance including financial budgeting, running effective meetings, consensus building, etc.). The training modules where taught by faculty of the University of Maryland’s Municipal Leadership Training Certification program.

During their time in Washington, D.C., the Tunisian delegation also visited the United States Congress, and visited with senior staff members of Congresswoman Betty McCollum, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, Congressman Dwight Evans, the Congressional Research Service, as well as with directors on the Senate Committee on Appropriations and the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Sub-committee on the Appropriations’ Committee. The Tunisian delegation took this opportunity to share their successes as well as continued challenges in building and strengthening their democracy post revolution. The delegation also toured the U.S. Capitol building and key historical monuments in Washington, D.C.

The Arab American Institute Foundation hosted a Congressional Briefing entitled, Tunisia at a Crossroads: Balancing Political Stability and Economic Prosperity, sponsored by Congresswoman Betty McCollum’s office. The briefing was an opportunity to hear first-hand accounts from Mr. Sami Khalfallah and Ms. Imen Karoui, council members from the Tunisian cities of Sfax and Dar Chabaane El Fehri, respectively, on the latest political developments in Tunisia in the aftermath of the passing of President Caid-Essebsi, the ongoing presidential elections, and their repercussions on the stability of the country. The Tunisian peers were joined by Dr. Daniel Brumberg of Georgetown University, and Dr. Rita Stephan, the Director of MEPI.

AAIF also co-hosted an event with Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies entitled, The Madinah Now and Then: the Politics and Challenges of Cultural Preservation. Dr. Raja Gmir, councilwoman for the city of Tunis, spoke about the many successes of rehabilitating and preserving historical buildings in the Tunis Madinah and the push for the recognition of Madinahs as world heritage sites. Dr. Gmir was joined by her Ms. Dhoha Bouzid, Councilwoman for the city of Sfax, and Dr. Kathryn Hanson of the Smithsonian Institution, who spoke about her cultural preservation work in conflict zones, such as Iraq and Syria.

The Tunisian delegation and their Arab American peers also attended a reception and private dinner hosted in their honor by the Tunisian Ambassador to the United States, Mr. Faycal Gouia. Ambassador Gouia expressed and reiterated his support of the Tunisian cohort of the U.S.-MENA Experiential Partnership saying,

“We need more [Tunisian] delegations to visit [the United States] so that they can see for themselves democracy at work. It is also important to give exposure to our nascent Tunisian democracy by having American delegations visit. We must continue to build bridges of cooperation and understanding – and the U.S.-MENA Experiential Partnership, does exactly that.”

The Tunisian delegation traveled to Philadelphia where they were joined by their Arab American peers. The peers began their visit by a meeting with Mayor of the City of Philadelphia Mr. Jim Kenney and members of his senior staff. The Tunisian delegation had a fruitful discussion about best practices in how to run and manager a diverse metropolitan city.

The Tunisian delegation also met with Mr. Anuj Gupta, General Manager of the Reading Terminal, for a discussion on the successes of Public Private Partnerships in the city of Philadelphia, and with Mr. Numa St. Louis, the District Director for Congressman Dwight Evans, for a discussion on the models of constituent service delivery to serve the diverse communities. The Tunisian delegation also visited Independence Hall and the historic Liberty Bell and attended a briefing on the early founding and history of the United States, including the writing of both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

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:

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 Chebaane, 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

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