Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Fall 2015

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


International Affairs

First Advisor

Dr. Jessica Martin

Second Advisor

Dr. Rolf Norgaard

Third Advisor

Dr. Vicki Hunter


This paper explores the effects of civil society’s involvement in the Tunisian democratic transition through a case study on its contributions to the constitution drafting process. Tunisia gained widespread international attention following its popular uprising against authoritarian leader Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and successful transition to democracy. Many, however, have dismissed Tunisia’s triumph as a lucky break aided by the country’s small size, religious and ethnic homogeneity, pre-existing liberal social values, and “relatively moderate” Islamist party. Those focused on such “Tunisian exceptionalism” conclude that the country’s transition has little to teach other countries in political flux.

This research contests that notion, and proposes that Tunisia’s transition has succeeded instead due to the presence of a strong and collaborative civil society, which grew discreetly throughout periods of authoritarianism and has matured in the post-revolution years. This paper specifically analyzes the debate concerning women’s rights in the constitution as an example of state-civil society interaction during the transitional period. The efforts of actors within Tunisia’s vibrant civil society – including activists, non-governmental organizations, unions, and the media – significantly changed the outcomes of political decision making in the transitional period. Examining the processes and outcomes of Tunisia’s transition allows not only for better insight into the vital role of civil society in Tunisian politics and culture, but also offers a new understanding of the potential influence of non-state institutions on the evolution of the state. This case study proposes several lessons that should be used to inform decision making in future projects of peacebuilding and political change in the Middle East and throughout the world.