Printer Friendly

Political orientations of young Tunisians: the impact of gender.

TUNISIA'S INCREASED CONTACT WITH EUROPE in the nineteenth century forced the Tunisian leadership to consider the most appropriate responses that would enable an economically poor country and its people to protect themselves against a foreign culture and superior powers. While the dominant traditional culture in Tunisia was Arabo/Islamic, the country suffered from an antiquated educational "system," and an abundance of corrupt public and religious officials. When Khayr al-Din al-Tunsi, an enlightened and public-spirited official was in a position to introduce major reforms in the 1870s, he modernized the curriculum of the Zaituna Mosque-University and established a new secondary school, Sadiqi College, modeled after the French lycee. These actions were premised on Khayr al-Din's conviction that Tunisians would not adopt wholesale Western, especially French, culture. Instead, the Arab and Islamic cultural heritage was to be strengthened through reform and, simultaneously, Tunisians were to borrow, selectively, some of the technological and intellectual products of France and Europe generally.(1)

In a very real sense, the dilemma generated by Tunisia's cultural encounter with Europe and the devised solution to it have continued to challenge the Tunisians until the present day. At times, the Arabo-Islamic heritage provides a stronger pull; at other times the supporters of secularism and development are in the ascendancy. However, there is no question that, politically, the major struggle for control of the nationalist movement in Tunisia in the 1930s, sometimes referred to as a "cultural schism," resulted in the triumph of the populist, Western-oriented elites over their more traditionalist counterparts.(2) That ushered in the era of the Neo-Destour Party, later (1964) renamed the Destour Socialist Party, and then the Democratic Constitutionalist (Destourian) Rally (1988). In other words, since the mid-1930s, and definitely since Tunisian independence in 1956, the political leadership in the country has mainly championed a Western-orientation in education and development programs, but with some recognition of the country's Arab and Islamic heritage.(3) As the development push began to sputter in the 1970s, and as the political leadership fractionalized and then fossilized, the Arab and Islamic orientation was, rather reluctantly, allowed somewhat greater expression.(4)

Throughout this lengthy struggle for Tunisia's soul, the leadership has been much more Western-oriented than the public, especially the population living outside of the main urban centers. Thus, while the school system since independence has been bilingual (Arabic and French) and bicultural, with a bias toward Western ideas, the home environment has been mainly traditional and Arab-Muslim in orientation. Under such circumstances, it is important to learn about some of the values the school children have internalized, values that will guide the future leaders of the country. In addition, we will attempt to determine the impact of gender on various cultural and political norms. It should be noted that male/female relationships as well as the education and role of women in society are of equal and major concern to both the traditionalists and the advocates of Western-style reforms and development.(5)

This article presents and discusses the knowledge and attitudes of male and female Tunisian youths, ages 9-17, concerning different aspects of society and politics. These orientations are culled from a 1988 survey of 1,618 students (54% male, 46% female) from a relatively representative sample of sixteen Tunisian elementary and secondary schools, including technical institutes. In other words, the students from the survey would now be young adults ranging in age from 13 to 21 years. This structured-questionnaire survey was conducted in Arabic among students in the fourth to ninth (i.e. third secondary) grades.

Rather than formulate a number of hypotheses about specific issues, I shall assume a general null hypothesis to the effect that there are no differences in the attitudes of male and female young Tunisians concerning their knowledge of political issues, their attitudes toward foreign countries and peoples, or their cultural values and orientations. In other words, it is initially assumed that whatever differences exist in the orientations of young Tunisian males and females are the result of random chance. Obviously, only after the statistical analysis is carried out can we determine whether or not there are significant differences, and whether gender is a primary factor in producing such differences.


Some of the survey questions attempted to determine how well (or poorly) these young people knew some political leaders and functions, both on the domestic and international levels. One question stated, "What is a political party and what functions does it perform?" Surprisingly few students (157 or 9.7%) could answer that question accurately. This is the case even when we accept as a "correct" response the mere naming of any political party or any reference to what a political party does, such as campaigning or articulating and aggregating interests.(6) A similarly-worded question inquired about labor unions. The results were even more disappointing, with only 85 or 5.3% of the respondents answering correctly. While very few Tunisian students know enough about political parties or labor unions to be able to identify such terms, we noted that among the knowledgeable group, males tend to outnumber females in identifying parties (12.8% to 6.5%) or labor unions (4.8% to 2.8%), but the differences were barely significant.

Young Tunisians' ignorance concerning political parties and labor unions must be viewed with some alarm by Tunisian leaders. After all, the Neo-Destour Party was instrumental in winning the country's independence from France in 1956. Furthermore, it has been in existence since the 1930s, albeit under different names. Also, the UGTT (Union Generale des Travailleurs Tunisiens), the main labor union, has been a major force on the Tunisian scene since 1946, providing a major voice for Tunisian workers in all sectors.

Obviously, the young age of the respondents is a factor contributing to their ignorance. Thus, the older the youths, the better informed they are on these issues. Nevertheless, the 14-17 year-old respondents, who constitute about one-third (31.8%) of the sample, were largely ignorant of political parties and labor unions, with only 85 (16.6%) and 52 (10.1%) correctly answering these questions. The more likely reason for such ignorance is the fact that the party and state have been "fused" in that the party dominates the state and often is "seen" as the state, with no separate status of its own. It is clear that the move to introduce and legitimize other, especially opposition parties, has not been internalized by these youths.(7) In any case, they are not likely to have heard much about it in the school system, which is run and controlled by the state.(8)

The state, however, is very successful in teaching these students who their political leaders are. Thus, a rather impressive 71.4% of all students could correctly name the then prime minister of Tunisia (Hedi Baccouche). On this issue, males were significantly more knowledgeable than females (77.4% vs. 66.1%). This pattern was consistent in all the geographic regions, among the different age groups, and regardless of the level of schooling or the socioeconomic status of schools.(9)

An index of political knowledge concerning internal (domestic) issues was constructed from a compilation of the correct answers to questions relating to political parties (and their functions), labor unions (and their functions), name of prime minister, and the duties/responsibilities of the prime minister. Once again, in comparing the results on the basis of gender, we find that, overall, males appear to be more knowledgeable than females.(10)

One question listed eight regional and world leaders and asked the youths to write a little something about each one, i.e. if they have any knowledge of the leader. Table 1 details the students' responses. Several points may be made about the results. First, Mu'mmar Qadhafi of Libya is clearly the best-known foreign leader, followed by Yasir Arafat, Ronald Reagan and Francois Mitterand, in that order. After that, there is a definite drop in the youths' ability to recognize other leaders on the list. Thus, it is rather surprising that fewer than one-fifth of the students could recognize a major Arab/Muslim leader, namely Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Also, only about one-eighth knew who Ayatollah Rouhallah Khomeini was.

Table 1 Tunisian Youths' Knowledge of International Leaders
 Knows Answers Does not
Leader Leader Incorrectly Answer
 No. % No. % No. %
Qadhafi 687 42.5 256 15.8 675 41.7
Arafat 562 34.8 296 18.3 760 47.0
Reagan 526 32.5 209 12.9 883 54.6
Mitterand 482 29.8 160 9.9 976 60.3
Mubarak 303 18.8 224 13.8 1091 67.4
Khomeini 201 12.4 252 15.6 1165 72.0
Klibi 133 8.2 329 20.3 1156 71.4
De Cuellar 23 1.4 86 11.6 1409 87.1

We should observe further that, among Arab leaders, it is Arafat, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), who is best known, in part because of the PLO's presence in Tunisia since 1982. Another point of interest is the fact that the American president is a better-known figure than the French president, this despite the continuing close ties between France and Tunisia, stemming from the French colonial presence in that country from 1882 to 1956. Also, despite, or perhaps because of, the Tunisian regime's alleged fear of, and concern about, the Iranian Islamic "threat" to Tunisia, Khomeini is practically a non-entity so far as these young Tunisians are concerned.(11)

Ignorance of Chedli Klibi and Javier Perez de Cuellar is, in part, an indication of the lack of salience to Tunisians of both the League of Arab States and the United Nations, the two organizations represented by the above individuals. It is particularly striking that so few students could recognize Klibi, a former Tunisian Minister of Education, and the then Secretary-General of the Arab League, whose headquarters had been transferred from Cairo to Tunis after Egypt's Arab League membership was suspended following the signing of the Camp David Accords and the Egyptian-Israeli Treaty in 1979.

An attempt was made to detect the attitude of Tunisian youths to the leaders whom they were able to recognize. The most obvious orientation was found to be a neutral stance. However, a clear emotion or feeling was detected toward three of these leaders. Thus, the most negative reaction was registered with reference to Khomeini (24%), followed by Ronald Reagan (12.8%). On the other hand, Yasir Arafat received both the most positive (18.5%) and the least negative (2.0%) comments of all the leaders listed.

Table 2 clearly shows that male Tunisian youths are more politically knowledgeable than their female colleagues, as to international leaders. Thus, though the association (as measured by the contingency co-efficient, "C") is not strong, still in every instance, the differences are statistically significant, and show that male respondents are more likely to know and correctly identify these eight international leaders. Also, the pattern was quite consistent in all geographic regions, among the various age groups, and regardless of the level of schooling or the socio-economic status of schools.

Table 2 Knowledge of International Leaders, by Sex
 Mubarak De Cuellar Khomeini Reagan
 No. % No. % No. % No. %
Male 188 21.8 15 1.7 137 15.9 313 36.4
Female 115 15.9 8 1.1 64 8.9 213 29.5
Sig.= .003 .29(*) .000 .004
C= .08 .03 .11 .07
 Arafat Mitterand Klibi Qadhafi
 No. % No. % No. % No. %
Male 332 38.6 299 34.7 100 11.6 399 46.3
Female 230 31.9 183 25.4 33 4.6 288 39.9
Sig.= .005 .000 .000 .01
C= .07 .10 .13 .07

(*)Numbers are too small for reliable statistical analysis


The survey contained some questions intended to tap the Tunisian youths' attitudes toward other countries and peoples. One question asked them which place they would prefer to read about: Tunisia, Arab countries generally, Muslim countries generally, or some foreign country that is neither Muslim, nor Arab. The students, male and female alike, showed the most preference (47.1%) for Muslim countries, followed by Tunisia (38%), Arab countries (9.5%), and finally foreign countries (5.4%). Then two open-ended questions asked these young Tunisians to name the foreign country they like and the one they dislike, and to provide their reasons for liking or disliking those countries. Only 167 (13.6%) of the respondents named a country that they liked which was neither Arab nor Muslim. Among the Arab/Muslim countries named, Saudi Arabia (16.2%) and Palestine (13.6%) were mentioned most often. Also, Western countries were named by 12.1% of the students.

It is clear, then, that both boys and girls prefer Arab countries. However, female respondents tended to mention non-Arab, particularly Western, countries more often than did the male respondents. This was particularly the case among students in upper and middle-class schools. Also, in secondary schools females expressed greater preference for Western countries than males did by a ratio of three to one (22.1% to 7.7%).(12) In general, a larger percentage of youths (about 10-15%) in Tunis and the coastal cities (for both male and female) tended to express preference for Western countries. However, it is among the older students (14 years and older) that a divergence of views concerning Western countries begins to emerge, with more females and fewer males (22.2% vs. 4.3%) expressing a liking for Western countries.

As for the country not liked, by far the largest number of respondents (436 or 45.6%) mentioned Israel.(13) Also, the United States was named by 13.2%, while other Western countries were mentioned by an additional 16.9% of the respondents. Also 54 students (5.6%) specified "Christian" or "non-Muslim" countries. Different Arab countries were also mentioned by 10.5% of the student respondents.

The reasons for liking or disliking those countries are simple and clear. Among the 46.9% of the respondents who gave a reason, the overwhelming majority (70%) liked countries which are Arab/Muslim, and disliked countries which are non-Muslim (48.6%) or anti-Arab/Palestine (37.9%). However, as indicated by the reasons given for their choice of "liked" countries, males tend to emphasize the Arab/Muslim character of the country more often than females do (62.4% vs. 52.1%)--except in the internal cities of Grombalia and Zaghouan (63.2% vs. 64.1%), and in lower middle class schools (61.9% vs. 56.3%). In those locales, females are about as Arab/Muslim in their orientation as males are.

Nevertheless, this "political" orientation of male youths is also indicated in the response to the question about the country "not liked". Thus, while the majority of both males and females dislike foreign or non-Arab countries, females tended to mention Western countries, including the USA, more often (35.2%) than males did (26.4%), whereas males mentioned Israel more often than their female counterparts did (51.3% vs. 38.1%). These choices are clearly based on the salient political/religious orientation of the two groups, where females tend to justify their dislike of certain foreign countries on the basis of their being non-Muslim, whereas males more often mention these disliked countries' anti-Arab/Palestinian stances.

At least in the case of female youths in Tunisia, the fact that they claim a dislike for foreign countries on the basis of their non-Islamic orientation is not necessarily an indication of intense religious fervor. The West holds great fascination for Tunisian female youths. It represents what is wonderful but also what is forbidden, namely the greater freedom they seek in a beautiful, economically developed setting. But it also represents danger, namely the very real threat of losing one's Islamic/Arab heritage and the moral values on which they are based. All this is combined with a political orientation that is neither as strong nor as fully developed (nor indeed does society expect it to be) as that which their male counterparts have. The result is a definite ambivalence.(14) When Western countries are viewed favorably, the reference is to their physical beauty, their economic development and to "women's rights". When a Western country is disliked by Tunisian female youths, it is most likely because it elicits feelings of stress, concern, and alarm at the possibility that a Tunisian female living there is likely to lose her moorings as well as her Islamic/Arab heritage and her identity. Nevertheless, Tunisian females tend to be more favorably disposed to Western countries than males, especially since the political antipathy toward Western policies is not as strong as that held by the males--except in the case of well-known countries and policies.


With only few (but significant) exceptions, male and female Tunisians generally hold similar views concerning cultural values. The results will be presented and detailed before gender comparisons are discussed. One question asked the students which was most wrong to do: Disobey the parents, the teacher or the policeman. An overwhelming 82.7% mentioned the parents, 12.7% named the policeman and a mere 4.5% wrote down "teacher," as the authority figure that is most wrong to disobey. It is clear that in Tunisia, the family bond continues to be very strong and parents are accepted as the ultimate authority, even by older children in middle school grades. In fact, children 12 years and older were more likely to mention parents as the most wrong to disobey.

Obedience to, and respect for, parents is certainly one of the most stronglyheld values of Tunisian children. Further evidence can be seen in the responses to two open-ended questions which asked the students to name three things for which "society" would (1) praise, or (2) blame them. Table 3 details the results.

As can be seen from Table 3, Tunisian youngsters value most of all obedience to, and respect for, their parents and older relatives in general. It is their number one response to what brings them praise--and it is also mentioned very frequently as a second or a third choice. The same results are obtained when the question is directed at what brings these youngsters condemnation. Here, the youths overwhelmingly mention the absence of obedience and respect for their parents.

Other values listed in Table 3 basically reflect the parents' injunctions to their children. They clearly emphasize doing well in school, not being dishonest, and helping others. Praying or being religious is mentioned by a small number, which does not reach ten percent, even as a third choice.


Related to the above, one question asked these students to identify the "best citizen," as to whether it is the person who works hard, or helps others, or prays regularly. Almost one-half of the respondents (47%) named the person who helps others as the best citizen. Praying regularly was the quality deemed best by 37.1% of these youth, and only 15.9% selected the hard-worker as the best citizen.(15)

One question listed six professions and asked the students to name the three most important for Tunisia. Mentioned most often was politician (45.2%), followed by teacher (40.5%), religious man (38.9%), engineer (38.1%), nurse (36.0%), and cinema actor (7.6%).(16)

Another question asked the students to select "the most important thing the government should do." The main concern of Tunisian youths, it turns out, is for the government to provide education, health benefits, and employment, as well as law and order. Neither national unity nor unemployment benefit payments registered as a salient problem for the youths.

Four questions inquired about the youths' attitudes toward women (see Table 4). The first question asked whether boys and girls should be treated equally. Over sixty percent said yes, and only one-fourth said no. Almost the same percentages were recorded which indicated that the students do not believe that boys are more intelligent than girls. Also, almost three-quarters of the respondents (74.0%) said that girls should not be restricted to learning only domestic arts and sciences. On the other hand, over sixty percent did not favor having the mother work outside the home, even if that meant a smaller income and a more modest life-style.


We now turn to a discussion of male/female differences. As mentioned earlier, on a large number of cultural issues, there are no statistically significant gender differences. Thus, both male and female youths overwhelmingly (81%, 85.6%) identify the parents as the main source of authority, as opposed to the teacher or policeman. For both groups (about 60%), the main task of government is to provide public services i.e. education, welfare, employment, etc. Also, both males and females overwhelmingly (95% vs. 93.5%) perfer to read about Arab/Islamic countries. Furthermore, for both groups, their pride in Tunisia is based solidly on the country's Muslim/Arab heritage (81.3% males, 74.6% females).

For both groups (64.3%), people are basically good (62.8% for males, 65.4% for females). Also, for both groups in almost equal percentages, the most positive things to do are to obey, respect and help parents and elders; to be good, to help others; and to be successful in school. The opposites of such activities are viewed equally as actions which bring condemnation. Also, males and females view the importance of certain professions for Tunisia in similar terms, both groups assigning a relatively high value to politicians and political activity. Finally, and importantly, relatively equal percentages of Tunisian male and female youths (61.2% vs. 62.7%) state that boys and girls should be treated equally.(17)

It is worthwhile to review the development of this attitude toward equal treatment of boys and girls, since it is widespread across all geographic regions and all social classes. Further analysis of the data shows that in elementary schools, females are less likely than males (44.4% vs. 54.3%) to accept the notion of equal treatment for both sexes. However, in institutes and secondary schools, females are clearly more likely than males to favor the idea.(18) What happens is clarified further if we look at the age progression as presented in Table 5.

Table 5 Boys and Girls Treated Equally?, by Sex and Age
 9-11 years
 Yes No Don't know
Male 55.1% 27.7% 17.2%
Female 45.7 28.5 25.8
 sig.=.02, C=.11
 12-13 years
Male 65.4 21.8 12.8
Female 69.2 22.4 8.4
 sig.=.32, C=.07
 14 + years
Male 64.2 30.6 5.2
Female 77.1 18.4 4.6
 sig.=.006 C=.14

Apparently, the home environment socializes females to accept the unequal status of males and females, and to be reconciled to a lower status for women. This notion remains ingrained in the females for the first two to three years of school. But it is clear that the school environment encourages the equal treatment of the sexes--and both boys and girls begin to find the notion more acceptable. By the time the students are 12-13 years old, their acceptance of this idea is relatively equal. However, at age fourteen and older, more and more females are recruited to the idea, while the number of new male recruits declines precipitously--hence the statistically significant differences noted between males and females at the more advanced age levels.(19)

However, while there is general agreement that boys and girls should receive equal treatment, there is definitely a difference of opinion concerning the capabilities and professional opportunities to be provided for boys and girls in Tunisia. Thus, as Table 6 makes clear, females are definitely more likely than males (77.6% vs. 45.5%) to reject the suggestion that boys are more intelligent than girls. This is true across the board i.e. in all geographic regions, social classes, school levels, and age levels. Female Tunisian youths are also more likely than their male brothers (81.% vs. 69.3%) to reject any restriction on their occupational/ professional choices in such a way as to restrict them to domestic duties. The impact of school should be noted here also. Thus, younger children (ages 9-11), i.e. those who still hold traditional values learned at home, or who have had only elementary schooling, accept or reject this notion in equal numbers, regardless of gender. However, after a few years of schooling, the percentage of males holding such views remains the same, but there are definitely fewer females who accept the idea of being confined to domestic duties only, as Table 7 shows.(20)

Table 6 Boys More Intelligent Than Girls?, by Sex
 Yes No Don't Know
 No. % No. % No. %
Male 336 39.8 384 45.5 124 14.7
Female 90 12.7 550 77.6 69 9.7
 sig.=.000, C=.32

Should Girls Learn Only Domestic Arts & Sciences?, by Sex
 Yes No Don't Know
 No. % No. % No. %
Male 189 22.6 580 69.3 68 8.1
Female 96 13.5 575 81.0 39 5.5
 sig.=.000, C=.13

Attitude Toward Working Mother, by Sex
 Mother Work Mother NOT Work
 No. % No. %
Male 303 36.8 520 63.2
Female 291 43.1 385 57.0
 sig.=.01, C=.06

Table 7 Girls Learn Only Domestic Arts & Sciences?, by Sex and School

 Yes No Don't Know
Male 24.8% 63.7 11.5
Female 23.0 66.7 10.3
 sig.=.70 C=.03
Male 20.5 73.9 5.6
Female 4.5 94.7 0.8
 sig.=.000 C=.27
Male 21.0 74.2 4.8
Female 5.5 93.0 1.6
 sig.=.000 C=.23

Finally, while a majority of both groups prefers the mother not to work outside the home, even if it means a more modest life style, nevertheless, a somewhat larger percentage of females (43.1% vs. 36.8%) is willing to have the mother work outside the home. The attitude toward the working mother is complicated by several factors. To begin with, the traditional norm is not to have the woman work outside the home. This is because of the Islamic notion of modesty for women, but it is also re-enforced further by a cultural norm that attaches or brings shame to the man who allows his wife to work outside the home--as this allegedly shows his inability to support his spouse and family and, therefore, reduces his esteem as a "man."(21)

It should be noted that in Tunisia (and in the Arab World generally), there is greater tolerance for, and acceptance of, females working outside the home while they are single. Once a woman marries, however, there is strong familial and societal pressure for her to quit work and raise a family. While this is a general orientation, specific factors in Tunisia have affected the attitudes of men and women on this issue. Thus, in the survey, there were significant gender differences in the internal cities of Grombalia and Zaghouan, as well as in the coastal cities of Nabeul and Sousse--where more females than males favored work for the mother outside the home. However, in Tunis and the rural cities, there were no significant gender differences. In Tunis, this is probably the case because a woman's additional income is needed for a better standard of living and because both males and females have generally accepted the Western notion of the value of a profession for both men and women. In other words, Tunis residents are more Westernized on this issue.(22) In the rural towns of Qairawan, Haffouz and Makthar, there is a lesser acceptance of this notion (30.7% vs. 37.5%), but the gender differences are not statistically significant. The reason, most likely, may be traced back to the fact that women have traditionally helped their husbands in farming chores or in collecting firewood, etc. Thus, the traditional/religious restriction against women working outside the home did not apply as much.

Another interesting factor affecting attitudes concerning the working mother is the social status of the family of the male. Thus males in lower-middle (not lower) class schools and those in institutes (essentially lower middle class) tend to be less willing to accept the notion of their mothers working outside the home--primarily because of the stigma of shame attached to it, especially if they feel they "deserve" better.

Finally, there is no question that the older the child, the less willing is he/she to want the mother to work outside the home. As Table 8 shows, however, this impacts males more than females and they reject the notion in larger percentages.(23)

Table 8 Attitude Toward Working Mother, by Sex and Age
 9-11 years
 Mother Work Mother NOT Work
Male 51.0% 49.0%
Female 51.2 48.8
 sig.=.96 C=.002
 12-13 years
Male 37.9 62.1
Female 44.1 55.9
 sig.=.19 C=.06
 14+ years
Male 20.6 79.4
Female 32.7 67.3
 sig.=.002 C=.14

Both male and female youths identified "the helper" most often as the best citizen, as opposed to the religious person or the hard worker. But females mentioned the helper more often than males did (52.4% vs. 43.75%), whereas males more often than females named the religious individual as the best citizen (39.2% vs. 33.3%). It is worth noting that while "the helper" is the ideal citizen, especially for female youths, this is particularly the case among females in rural cities, in "lower class" schools, in institutes as opposed to secondary schools, and among older (14+ years) females, as Table 9 shows.

Table 9 Best Tunisian Citizen, by Sex and Other Variables
Sex N Hard Worker Helper Religious
 No. % No. % No. % Sig. C
 Region: Rural Cities
Male 157 22 14.0 56 35.7 79 50.3 .04 .17
Female 75 8 10.7 40 53.3 27 36.0
 Socio-economic Status of School: Lower Class
Male 186 29 15.6 61 32.8 96 51.6 .002 .20
Female 98 11 11.2 53 54.1 34 34.7
 School Level: Institute
Male 113 10 8.9 62 54.9 41 36.3 .006 .22
Female 86 5 5.8 66 76.7 15 17.4
 Age: 14 + years
Male 179 21 11.7 84 46.9 74 41.3 .002 .20
Female 130 14 10.8 86 66.2 30 23.1

The survey questionnaire included six different definitions of democracy. The youths surveyed were asked to agree or disagree with each of these definitions. Table 10 details their responses. Clearly, the definition most acceptable to Tunisian youths is "Democracy means that opportunities for advancement are open for all," which was favored by approximately six out of every ten respondents. The least acceptable definition (27.4% yes, 40.6% no) is the one which states: "Democracy means that any citizen may criticize the government, without encountering problems [as a consequence of that criticism]." Finally, the students demonstrated the greatest uncertainty (46.3%, "Don't know") concerning the definition which states, "Democracy means that once the majority comes to a decision, the minority has to accept that decision." Male and female responses to the six stated definitions of democracy were generally similar, i.e. the differences were not statistically significant.(24)



What are the implications of these findings? To begin with, it is clear that Tunisia is continuing the experiment, initiated by Khayr al-Din over a century ago, to attempt to produce some workable formula that would enable its people to retain their Arab/Muslim culture and, simultaneously, borrow the necessary technological skills from France/Europe/the West. It is true that at the time of independence in 1956, the more Western-oriented leadership of Bourguiba and his supporters won. But they did not, and most likely could not, turn Tunisia into a European clone. Since then, the Arab/Islamic element has had to be appeased and accommodated quite often. If this situation is likely to be the norm for the foreseeable future, what cultural mix is possible and how does such a product affect the politics of Tunisia?

It needs to be reiterated that the post-independence changes were many, perhaps sweeping and almost revolutionary--but they did not constitute a comprehensive revolution.(25) In the end, Tunisians remained "Levantine," i.e. a people who simultaneously exist in two cultures and two "worlds," without fully belonging to either one.(26) However, there were and are variations on this theme. On one extreme, most of the population is immersed, and finds itself most comfortable, in an Arab/Islamic ambience--but one which also provides the fruits of twentieth century technology. On the other, there are a few (fewer than there were in 1956) intellectuals who are completely immersed in Western, especially French, culture/civilization--and they are much more comfortable in Europe/France than in Tunisia or the Arab/Muslim world. These were the ones who hoped to transform Tunisians and Tunisian society into "Little France" in North Africa. Whatever their chances of success might have been in 1956, they are much less today.

The third group is composed of the educated and semi-educated, the intelligentsia, the product of the Tunisian educational system--a system that has tried to maintain the Arab/Islamic identification and simultaneously create the "new" Tunisian personality, one that is secular, rational and scientific in its approach and orientation. This third group, the future leadership of Tunisia, has suffered from the cross-pressures of the other two groups. These young intelligentsia are the most "Levantine" of all. Their basic and strongest cultural moorings are somewhat traditional and Arab/Muslim in orientation. However, super-imposed over these is a thin veneer of Western values which they are told are better, more modern, and essential for their country's development. There is greater or lesser acceptance of these notions, depending on the various social background variables, including gender, which were discussed above. In general, however, the dominant orientations for both males and females appear to be the more traditional ones. Thus, males are generally better informed than females and more politically aware and activist--with that awareness being heavily oriented toward Islam/Arabism. On the other hand, females more often favor greater sexual equality and the freedom they see, hear and read about in the West. This is particularly true of the females who come from upper-class schools/families, who live in the cities, especially Tunis, and who are in the higher school-grades.

Whereas the relatively few thoroughly-Westernized intellectuals and the large traditional population are quite "secure" in their orientation at all times, the intelligentsia is more susceptible to "suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" and to be influenced by interference, either from Europe or from a fundamentalist Islamic revival. Especially under circumstances of economic hard times, scarce resources, and high levels of unemployment, these young intellectuals are more likely to retrench and turn toward traditional values and an Arab/Islamic orientation. Furthermore, the "democracy" they favor is likely to be social democracy, where there is equal opportunity for all and where there are no extremes of wealth and poverty.

Finally post-independence Tunisia has not been any more successful than Khayr al-Din was in the nineteenth century in producing a truly creative and productive educational mix of Arab/Muslim cultural identity and a "value-free" science and technology imported from the West. The consequent tension animates and will likely define Tunisian politics for decades to come.(27)


(1.)See Leon Carl Brown, The Surest Path: The Political Treatise of a Nineteenth Century Muslim Statesman (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967).

(2.)See Elbaki Hermassi, Leadership and National Development in North Africa: A Comparative Study (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1972). The reference to a cultural schism is on p. 120.

(3.)For a discussion of the main cultural forces motivating the Tunisian leadership, especially Bourguiba, see Norma Salem, Habib Bourguiba, Islam and the Creation of Tunisia (London: Croom Helm, 1984); and Derek Hopwood, Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia: The Tragedy of Longevity (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992).

(4.)The lessening impact of Western influence was already in evidence by the early 1970s. See Abdelkader Zghal, "The Reactivation of Tradition in a Post-Traditional Society," in Post-Traditional Societies, ed. S.N. Eisenstadt (New York: W. W. Norton, 1972), 225-37; and John P. Entelis, "Ideological Change and an Emerging Counter-Culture in Tunisian Politics," Journal of Modern African Studies 12, no. 4 (Dec. 1974): 543-68.

(5.)For a general introduction to Tunisia, see Kenneth J. Perkins, Tunisia: Crossroads of the Islamic and European Worlds (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1986); and, for a survey of recent developments, see I. William Zartman, ed. Tunisia: The Political Economy of Reform (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1991).

(6.)Similar results were obtained in an earlier survey, indicating no improvement on this issue. See Edgar Curtis Taylor, Jr., "Education and Nation Building: A Behavioral Analysis of the Political Socialization of Tunisian Lycee Students." Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1974, p. 210.

(7.)It should be noted that in the early 1970s, Tunisian university students strongly favored a two-party system (50%) or a multi-party system (16%). See Entelis, p. 562.

(8.)See Perkins, Tunisia, pp. 147-156; Dirk Vandewalle, "From the New State to the New Era: Toward a Second Republic in Tunisia," The Middle East Journal 42, no. 4 (Autumn 1988): 602-20; and L.B. Ware, "Ben Ali's Constitutional Coup in Tunisia," The Middle East Journal 42, no. 4 (Autumn 1988): 587-601.

(9.)Taylor's earlier study showed similar results. Taylor, "Education and Nationa Building," 216.

(10.)The greater political knowledge of males was also found to be the case among young Moroccans. See Michael W. Suleiman, "Socialization to Politics in Morocco: Sex and Regional Factors," International Journal of Middle East Studies 17, no. 3 (Aug. 1985): 313-27.

(11.)For a discussion of Islam and the Tunisian state's response to political challenges based on Islam, see Susan Waltz, "Islamist Appeal in Tunisia," The Middle East Journal 40, no. 4 (Autumn 1986): 651-70.

(12.)Among elementary school students, females were almost twice as likely as males (31.2% vs. 71.4%) to mention Tunisia as the "foreign" country they like. It is possibly an indication that they are unable to name a foreign country with which they sympathize.

(13.)The strong affinity toward Arabs and hostility toward Israel were also observed among university students in 1972. See Entelis, 555, 566.

(14.)Much has been written on the position of women in the Arab/Muslim culture and the ways women have reacted to the encounter with the West. For anthologies on the subject, see Lois Beck and Nikki Keddie, eds., Women in the Muslim World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978); Elizabeth Warnock Fernea and Basima Qattan Bezirgan, eds., Middle Eastern Muslim Women Speak(Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1985); Nikki Keddie and Beth Baron, eds., Women in Middle Eastern History: Shifting Boundaries in Sex and Gender (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991); Margot Bardran and Miriam Cook, Opening the Gates: A Century of Arab Feminist Writing (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1990); Bouthaina Shaaban, Both Right and Left Handed: Arab Women Talk about Their Lives (London: Women's Press, 1988). See also Evelyne Accad, Veil of Shame: The Role of Women in the Contemporary Fiction of North Africa and the Arab World (Sherbrook, Quebec, Canada: Editions Naaman, 1978); and the bibliography compiled by Herbert L. Bodman entitled Women in the Muslim World (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1990).

(15.)It should be noted that obedience to parents, respect for elders, and helping others are strong traditional values which "modernity" or formal schooling has not greatly undermined.

(16.)The importance which Tunisian youths attach to "politician" as a profession probably reflects their concern that the leadership has not lived up to the people's expectations and has, to a great extent, lost the trust and confidence of the masses. This was reflected in the responses of university students in the 1970s. See Entelis, 550-55.

(17.)The liberal, Western-oriented leaders of independent Tunisia made a deliberate and major effort to greatly improve the status of women. This was effected mainly through the 1956 Personal Status Code, but also re-enforced through the personal example and many speeches of the "supreme combatant". See, for instance, Habib Bourguiba, "A New Role for Women," in The Contemporary Middle East: Tradition and Innovation, ed. Benjamin Rivlin and Joseph S. Szyliowicz (New York: Random House, 1965), 352-5. For a review of these changes, see Charles A. Micaud, Leon Carl Brown and Clement Henry Moore, Tunisia: The Politics of Modernization (New York: Praeger, 1964).

(18.)The impact of education on attitudes and values of young Tunisians is discussed in the following studies: Richard Sack, "Education and Modernization in Tunisia: A Study on the Relationship Between Education and Other Variables and Attitudinal Modernity." Ph.D. diss., Stanford University, 1972; Shelby Lewis Smith, "Nation-Building in Tunisia: The Impact of Education and Socialization." Ph.D. diss., Louisiana State University in New Orleans, 1973; and especially Taylor, "Education and Nation Building". See also my "Formal Education and Development Among Tunisian Students," in Clement Henry Moore et al., eds., Social Impact of Technology on Society in North Africa (Tunis: University of Tunis, 1993). Forthcoming.

(19.)Note Tessler's earlier studies. While his studies focused on "literate and regularly employed adults," it is still useful to note his results. He found that support for women's emancipation clearly went down between 1967 and 1973. However, "support generally declined most among men in smaller towns and least among women in Tunis." See Mark A. Tessler with Janet Rogers and Daniel Schneider, "Women's Emancipation in Tunisia," in Beck and Keddie, ed., Women in the Muslim World, pp. 141-58.

(20.)The leaders of the new Tunisian republic emphasized the need for women not to be confined to housework. See, for instance, Bourguiba, "A New Role for Women," 352-3.

(21.)See Barbara K. Larson, "The Status of Women in a Tunisian Village: Limits to Autonomy, Influence, and Power," Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 9, no. 3 (1984): 417-33. It should be noted, however, that the restrictions are normally greater in the village than in urban areas. It should be noted further that female employment outside the home is more common in professions considered to be normal extensions of the female's role at home, e.g. in teaching, medicine, etc. See Durra Mahfouz, "The Arab Woman in the Arab Maghreb between Exploitation and Liberation," in The Role of Women in the Arab Unity Movement (Beirut: Centre for Arab Unity Studies, 1982), 319-40. (In Arabic).

(22.)The higher value ascribed to work outside the home by women in the Tunis area might also be due to a greater acceptance of this norm by males--who then encourage the females to be more efficacious. See Susan E. Waltz, "Another View of Feminine Networks: Tunisian Women and the Development of Political Efficacy," International Journal of Middle East Studies 22, no. 1 (Feb. 1990): 21-36.

(23.)On the issue of female employment and social attitudes, see Lorna Hawker Durrani, "Employment of Women and Social Change," in Russell A. Stone and John Simmons, eds., Change in Tunisia: Studies in the Social Sciences (Albany: SUNY Press, 1976), 57-72.

(24.)The only gender differences (and these are rather minor, with low levels of association, C=.09) relate to the definition of democracy as a system of government in which people govern. Here female youths tended to reject the definition less often (20.1% vs. 28%), and were either somewhat more positive (44.3% vs. 40.5%) or just did not know (35.6% vs. 31.6%).

(25.)See Michael W. Suleiman, "Crisis and Revolution in Lebanon," The Middle East Journal 26, no. 1 (Winter 1972): 11-24. There, I applied to Lebanon Samuel Huntington's definition of a revolution as a "rapid, fundamental, and violent domestic change in the dominant values and myths of a society, in its political institutions, social structure, leadership, and government activity and politics." See Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1968), 264. Based on that definition, I found that Lebanon needed, but was regrettably incapable of, "revolution."

(26.)See Albert Hourani, Syria and Lebanon (London: Oxford University Press, 1946), 70-71.

(27.)Recent developments seem to confirm this. See Mark J. Gasiorowski, "The Failure of Reform in Tunisia," Journal of Democracy 3, no. 4 (Oct. 1992): 85-97.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Association of Arab-American University Graduates
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Suleiman, Michael W.
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:Lebanon's divisive democracy: the parliamentary elections of 1992.
Next Article:Reactions in the Maghreb to the Gulf crisis and war.

Related Articles
Left for Dead: The Life, Death, and Possible Resurrection of Progressive Politics in America.
Heinemann Educational Publishers.
TUNISIA - The Changing Muslim Parties - Part 17.
Gays vs. the transgendered: New York activists go head-to-head over an antidiscrimination bill. (Politics).
Deconstructing gender, sex, and sexuality as applied to identity. (The Culture War).
TUNISIA - The Campaign Against Terror - Part 19.
TUNISIA - The Rifts Within Muslim States - Part 18.
TUNISIA - Marginalising The Islamists & Other Opposition.
Gita Sen, Asha George and Piroska Osltin (Eds.) Engendering International Health: The Challenge of Equity.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters