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„From Sidi Bouzid to Tahrir: Two steps forward, one step back?“ A critical review five years after the North African revolts



In the beginning of 2011, in the central Tunisian town Sidi Bouzid, the Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire. His act of desperation sparked protests throughout the whole country, which led within a very short time to a massive democratic movement and brought about the downfall of the long standing dictator Ben Ali. The movement spread out to all North African societies and took a different course in every country. The Tahrir Square in Cairo, venue of rallies and protest camps, became the symbol of the Egyptian rebellion, which overthrew the president Mubarak. In Morocco, the regime reacted with (sham) reforms to the uprisings, in Algeria with a mixture of concessions and repression. In Libya, an externally fuelled civil war flared up, and the once economically prospering country collapsed.

In the beginning of 2016, new uprisings against the economic hardships are once again flaring up in Tunisia, which has been presented as a role model for democratization in the region. Hundreds of demonstrators are arrested. The Egyptian military regime is regularly taking action against critics and activists with extreme brutality. The situation in Algeria and Morocco has barely changed, and Libya has joined the list of „failed states“.

Five years after the North African rebellions, we would like to take a step back, critically analyze the status quo and discuss the various perspectives together with activists and international experts of the democratic movements.

Which were the objectives of the movements in Tunisia and Egypt and what are the real achievements? How can we imagine a new political order that leads to real (institutional) stability? How and in which form have democratic openings taken place? What happened to the leaders of the protest movements, what are their scopes and fields of action? Which national, which international stakeholders continue to block the democratic processes? How do the political forces relate to each other, notably secular and religious groups? What about human (especially women’s) rights? Are alternative political and economic concepts included?


Akram Belkaïd (keynote) is an Algerian journalist and essayist and based in Paris. He is contributor to Le Monde Diplomatique, OrientXXI, Afrique Magazine and Le Quotidien d'Oran. His latest publications include Retours en Algérie (2013) and Être Arabe aujourd’hui (2011). He is specialised in topics like the Arab World, energy issues or international economics.

Lina Ben Mhenni, born in 1983 in Tunisia, is assistant professor in linguistics and translator at the Tunis University. She is a political blogger and internet activist, who campaigns for human rights and against censorship. Her blog A Tunisian Girl achieved worldwide publicity through her blog entries on the revolution. With her book „Get connected!“ she describes the emancipatory potential of Social Media and calls for the mobilization for a “direct democracy on the behalf of its citizens“.

Wael Abbas, born 1974 in Egypt, is an internationally renowned journalist, blogger and human rights activist, who blogs at Misr Digital (Egyptian Awareness). Abbas studied English language and literature at Ain Shams University in Cairo. He has worked as a journalist and photographer for Al Dustour (The Constitution), an independent weekly newspaper in Cairo, and as Middle East correspondent for Germany's DPA news agency.  Abbas has broken news on subjects generally avoided by local media: protests, corruption, and police brutality.

Jihan El-Tahri is an Egyptian-French filmmaker, author and news correspondent. She has authored, directed and produced award-winning documentary films, authored books and reported on political conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. El-Tahri was a member of the Executive Bureau of the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers (FEPACI) and Secretary General of the Guild of African Filmmakers in the Diaspora, as well as a correspondent for US News & World Report covering the Middle East.

Salah Zater worked as a reporter for the private Libyan TV channels Al-Assema TV and Al-Nabaa and had his own talkshow Talk without borders on Tide TV . Due to his reporting on persistent human rights violations in Libya, like child labor, sexual abuse, drug and weapons trade and corruption, he has become a target of both government officials and militia. Since the beginning of 2015, he is in Hamburg, Germany, where he is currently guest of the Hamburg Foundation for the Politically Persecuted.

Jamal Touissi has been involved with civil society in Morocco for 18 years now. He launched many projects, facilitated initiatives with NGOs, political parties and social enterprises. Touissi is the founder and manager of „A Social entreprise“ and a co-founder of „Chantiers de la Citoyenneté“, a young Moroccan NGO which campaigns for democracy and human rights.

Hadjar Aouardji was born in 1983 and lives in Paris. She studied political sciences and international relations in Cairo, Strasbourg and Paris and made her PhD at "Sciences Po" in Paris. Aouardji is author and Middle East observer.

The symposium is organized in cooperation with the Rosa-Luxemburg-Foundation and Volksbühne Berlin.

The entrance is free, an inscription via mail to t.kulla(at)africavenir.org is requested!

The symposium will take place in French and English with simultaneous translation into both languages, a translation into German unfortunately is not possible!

In the evening of April 7th at 7 pm, we will screen the groundbreaking documentary “Egypt’s Modern Pharaos“ (subtitled in English) in City Kino Wedding (Centre Français de Berlin), which will be repeated on April 8th at Hackesche Höfe Kino, both times in attendance of the director Jihan El-Tahri. The three-part chronicle portrays 60 years of political development in Egypt, from the anti-colonial protests in the 1950th to the revolt in 2011, and through the reign of the three “modern pharaos” – Nasser, Saddat and Mubarak – examines the political background for the strengthening of Islamism in the country.

Furthermore, the Arab Film Festival ALFILM from April 6-13 is a suitable frame and a most welcome complement of the symposium.

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