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Notes from Tunisia: Professor Winchester’s Fascinating Presentation

September 18, 2012

Notes from Tunisia
Notes from Tunisia
Notes from Tunisia

Recounts Experiences As a Fulbright Scholar

“Do they like us?” Professor Richard Winchester said of the Tunisian people. “I’m going to tell you – they don’t hate us!  My Tunisian friends are apologetic about the violent demonstrations going on.”

“Notes from Tunisia: Life in the Aftermath of the Arab Spring,” was Professor Winchester’s presentation at Thomas Jefferson School of Law on Tuesday, September 18.

In fascinating hour-long lunchtime talk, he recounted his experiences and the insights he gained during his recent seven-month assignment as a Fulbright Scholar, teaching at the University of Carthage.

“What you see on TV is not so much about the U.S. as it is about religion,” he says about the latest violent protests in Tunisia that began on September 14. He believes the Salafis, the conservative branch of Islam behind the protests, are a small slice of Tunisia and don’t represent the views of the vast majority of Tunisians.

“They are a minority. They are vocal, aggressive and they will do these kinds of things to assert their position,” Professor Winchester said.  “They are trying to slam their views down everyone’s throat.”

The cultural cross-currents in Tunisia are basically three competing forces, he feels, making it a “fractured society.”  There are those who want things the way they were before the Jasmine Revolution when the dictator fled the county; the secular, which is the majority; and those, like the Salafis, who are pushing for a strict Islamic form of government.

“There is a national ambivalence in Tunisia over what their identity should be,” said Professor Winchester.  “There is no strong leader now – the president is not terribly strong. So there are some real risks ahead, but I think a moderate government will replace the dictatorship they had, not a religious one.”

However, the turnout in Tunisia’s election was only about 52 percent, a very low turnout considering there hadn’t been elections in the country for some 50 years.  And Professor Winchester feels it was very much a split outcome and was not in line with popular opinion.

“Here’s the real civics lesson,” Winchester said. “You have to show up to vote if you want control over your destiny.”

The event was presented by the International Law Society and the Mideast Law Students Association.