Manich Msema7 is a Tunisian youth-led social movement that resisted an anti-reconciliation bills put forward by the Ennahda-Nidaa Tounes-led government to provide a general amnesty to former regime officials and bureaucrats accused of corruption under the Ben Ali government.
Problems and Purpose
The Manich Msema7 (MM) movement arose in direct response to a series of anti-reconciliation bills put forward by the Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes-led government in a move to provide a general amnesty for former regime officials and bureaucrats accused of corruption and other abuses of power under the Bourguiba and (especially) Ben Ali governments. The attempt to do so removed the issue of corruption and economic transitional justice from the responsibilities mandated to the Truth and Dignity Commission through the 2013 Law on Transitional Justice and instead tried to settle the matter through party and parliamentary politics. MM’s leadership claims that the roots of the movement predate the economic reconciliation bills in sharing concerns over safeguarding the transitional justice process in Tunisia generally, thus linking the MM movement to other youth-led campaigns that both antedate and postdate MM such as Hatta Ana Haraqt Markaz (“I too Burned a Police Station”), Hasibhum (“Make them Accountable”), and Fech Nestanaou (“What are We Waiting for?”) (Chomiak 2016; Ben Jaballah 2018; Personal interviews with activists). Following a crack-down staged by the Tunisian government in response to MM’s ‘Awareness Week’, the social movement expanded its mission to include freedom of expression and assembly.
Background History and Context
On 20 March 2015, then Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi addressed economic reconciliation in his Independence Day speech, and on 14 July 2015 he introduced a bill to parliament to provide amnesty to political and administrative figures of Tunisia’s post-independence regimes.The hashtag began in August 2015 as an online campaign that sought to block the government’s amnesty of corrupt regime officials. The origins of the hashtag began with Khaoula Sliti, a student in Monastir who posted a commentary on the cost of textbooks on Facebook. The well-known activist Aziz Amami replied to Sliti, and their conversation then gravitated towards the anti-reconciliation bill. Along with 20 other activists, the pair created a Google group to discuss ways of mobilizing against the bill, and from there the hashtag materialized (Personal interview with Khaoula Sliti).
On 27 August 2015, iWatch (an anti-corruption organization) coordinated a silent march from Mohamed Ali to Hotel Africa in Habib Bourguiba that ended in aconference/debate to draw attention to the economic reconciliation law on the streets of the capital. This was followed by a 1 September protest organized by MM in Mohamed Ali Square that was ultimately repressed by the police.According to one of the of the movement’s leadership, this was one of the reasons for which the movement gained momentum: namely, police repression helped spread word of the movement’s aims. A number of political parties, civil society organizations, and prominent figures began to support the organization and condemn the violence and arrests.
On 12 September 2015, MM participated in the “National March Against the Reconciliation Law.” For its part, MM targeted youth, especially those with no prior involvement in politics or clear political affiliation, through cultural activities. Due to political infighting, the march proceeded in three waves, or stages. The first began to march at 2:00pm,MM and its followers at 3:00pm, and the last stage at 4:00pm.
Thecampaign then took off across the country, garnering international support. Between August 2015 and September 2017, approximately 70 mobilizations took place, the most notable of which brought cross-class coalitions of political parties and civil society organizations onto the streets numbering in the thousands. Ultimately, the movement was partially successful: parliament was forced to amend its proposals on July 2016, April 2017, and September 2017, only to be passed as the Law on Administrative Reconciliation on 20 October 2017. Named Organic Bill 49-2015, the law ultimately granted amnesty to administrators—but not, notably, to politicians.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
While MM had only 100-200 core members, its Facebook page boasted over 70,000 followers. Membership was open to any and all who wanted to participate in the cause so long as they did so as individuals while also drawing upon many forms of material and logistical support from established political parties and organizations spanning the center-left spectrum, including but not limited to:
- Republican Party [centrist-liberal]
- Popular Front [left-communist coalition]
- Democratic Current [social democratic]
- Femme Democrats
- Tunisian League Against Torture
Participant Recruitment and Selection
MM was similar to a number of youth movements in attempting to recruit members from people who were not previously connected to activism or political parties: “MM was a motivation—gave me hope that there is a way to get out of the ‘traditional way’ of activism. MM was the new beginning [because it] came with innovation: it’s a school of communication” (Personal interview with MM activist). “What differentiates us from other social movements, I believe, is the way in which we communicate our goals: our message is contemporary (mutajaddid) and addresses the concerns of young people” (Interview with Hamza Abidi in Chomiak and Salman, 2016).MM also attempted forms of activism in “campaigns” unlike those seen previously: “We discovered that this form of activism—a campaign that distances itself from formal politics—is a better way to attract participants…. As a campaign, we are critical of certain public policies, but we are not interested in narrow party politics. Add the fact that we are all young people who speak the same language; we know and trust one another.” (Ibid).
MM thus deployed a number of tactics. In some cases, the group borrowed from previous forms of everyday activism, adapting slogans from cartoons and football stadiums. They also initiated cultural and intellectual forums like slam poetry, jam sessions, and invited speaker series. Still other tactics included a “Whose dog are you?” song accompanied by flares and fireworks;plastering“WANTED” signs with allegedly corrupt businessmen across public spaces; and sending letters to politicians calling on them not to discuss the bill in parliament. The campaign also included targeting alleged money laundering in Majel Bel Abbes (Kasserine), dirty hands in the Marina Gammarth construction project, and support for the Kamour and Jemna protests over land and labor issues, among others.
Methods and Tools Used
MM deployed a number of tactics. In some cases, the group borrowed from previous forms of everyday activism, adapting slogans from cartoons and football stadiums. They also initiated cultural and intellectual forums like slam poetry, jam sessions, and invited speaker series. Still other tactics included a “Whose dog are you?” song accompanied by flares and fireworks;plastering “WANTED” signs with allegedly corrupt businessmen across public spaces; and sending letters to politicians calling on them not to discuss the bill in parliament. The campaign also included targeting alleged money laundering in Majel Bel Abbes (Kasserine), dirty hands in the Marina Gammarth construction project, and support for the Kamour and Jemna protests over land and labor issues, among others.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
20 March 2015: Then Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi addressed economic reconciliation in his Independence Day speech.
14 July 2015: Then Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi introduces a bill to parliament to provide amnesty to political and administrative figures of Tunisia’s post-independence regimes.
August 2015: MM is born to oppose the passing of the controversial bill of national reconciliation.
August 25 2015: Activists wearing MM t-shirts are stopped by the police at Carthage Amphitheatre.
August 27 2015: iWach organizes a silent march from Mohamed Ali to Hotel Africa in Habib Bourguiba followed by a debate/conference to draw awareness to the reconciliation bill. MM is in attendance.
September 1, 2015: The first MM organized protest in Mohamed Ali Square is repressed by the police. Some members of MM are arrested. Many political parties, unions and civil society organizations condemned the violent repression MM faced.
September 3, 2015: The Student Union UGET (Union générale des étudiants de Tunisie) calls for a protest downtown with the support of MM and members of leftist political parties.
September 3, 2015: MM gains support from protesters in Paris.
September 4,2015: Protests in Gafsa and Gasrine.
September 5,2015: Protests in Kairouan, (repressed by the police).
September 6, 2015: Protests in Sfax (repressed by the police).
September 7, 2015: Protests in Mahdia and Sidi Bouzid.
September 8, 2015: Protests in Jendouba (repressed by the police).
September 10, 2015: Protests in Gabes.
September 11, 2015: Protests in Monastir
September 11, 2015: MM press conference in journalists’ union office in Tunis. “Official” MM t-shirts are revealed for the first time.
September 12, 2015: Protests in Gafsa.
September 12, 2015: The “National March Against the Reconciliation Law.”
September 15, 2015: Protests in Sousse (repressed by police). MM mission expands to “protecting freedom of assembly and expression in the post-revolution political context” (Chomiak and Salman, 2016).
September 20, 2015: Cultural protest in Masar Square.
October 17, 2015: MM organizes different activities on Avenue Habib Bourguiba, including:
- Direct communication with people
- Collection of signatures on the petition
- Free expression/art and craft workshop
- Selling MM t-shirts and other stuff created in the workshop.
MM replicated the aforementioned activities in Kef two weeks later. In addition, the MM movement arranged seminars in different Tunisian universities where they invited Law/Economy specialists as speakers.
April 9, 2016: Protest over “the criminalization of social mobility.”
May 20, 2016: The beginning of the “WANTED” campaigns—'plastering images of notoriously corrupt businesspeople from the Ben Ali period across public space overnight’ aiming to “shock the public the next morning” (Chomiak and Salman, 2016). The campaign began with “WANTED: Slim Chiboub,” a businessman married to Ben Ali’s daughter. This campaign was followed by “WANTED: Abdelwahhab Abdallah,” adviser to Ben Ali who held numerous ministerial positions, and “WANTED: Mohamed Alghariani,” a former secretary-general of Ben Ali’s party, the Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD).
July 10, 2016: MM sends letters to the Assembly of People’s Representatives calling on them to not discuss the Reconciliation Law and detailing economic violations.
July 13, 2016: Press conference about the Reconciliation Law.
July 15, 2016: A march from Mohamed Ali Square toward the theatre in Habib Bourguiba.
July 19, 2016: Protests in Bizerte.
July 22, 16: Protests in Sidi Bouzid.
July 23,2016: Protests in Nabeul, Sousse, Kairouan, Gafsa and Beja.
July 24,2016: Protests in Tozeur, Gabes and Kef.
July 25, 2015: Protests in Sfax and Jendouba, as well as a national march in Tunis coordinated independently by political parties and NGOs.
July 27, 2016: A solidarity protest is held in Paris.
July 28, 2016: Protests in Djerba.
November 25, 2016: Protests in front of the theatre against escaping punishment/ impunity.
November 30, 2016: Protests in front of the Congress Palace in Avenue Mohamed V against The Investment Conference (repressed by police).
December 20, 2016: Protests to condemn the assassination of Mohamed Zouari.
April 6, 2017: Protests in Zaghouan.
April 29, 2017: A march from Mohamed Ali square to the theatre in Habib Bourguiba.
April 30, 2017: Protests in Gabes.
May 1, 2017: MM participated in the International Labor Day protest.
May 2, 2017: Protests in front of the Tunisian embassy in Paris.
May 5, 2017: A protest in Sfax. On the same day, “WANTED: Noureddine Ben Ticha” and Wanted: Borhen Bsaies” begins.
May 6, 2017: A march in Gafsa.
May 7, 2017: A protest in Beja.
May 11, 2017: Protests condemning corruption-laundering law in Majel Belabbes.
May 11, 2017: Protests in Paris.
May 13, 2017: A “National March” in avenue Habib Bourguiba.
May 20, 2017: A protests in Sfax raising awareness of the reconciliation law in front of the Ministry of Tourism.
May 22,2017: Protests in Habib Bourguiba and Sousse to support the protests of Kamour and to condemn the murder of Anouar Essakrafi.
May 23, 2017: A protests in Sfax in support of Kamour and to condemn the murder of Anouar Essakrafi.
May 25, 2017: A press conference unveils the administrative and financial corruption of “Marina Gammarth”.
May 26, 2017: A protests in Kairouan.
June 3, 2017: A campaign in the Medina (downtown Tunis) to raises awareness of the Reconciliation Law.
July 19, 2017: The validation of the administrative reconciliation law by the General Legislation Committee.
July 20, 2017: A protest in front of the parliament.
July 21, 2017: A protest in front of the theatre in Habib Bourguiba Avenue.
July 22, 2017: A protest in Sousse.
July 23, 2017: The arrest of 3 members of the campaign while calling for a protest in Medenine.
July 24, 2017: A protest in Medenine.
July 27, 2017: A protest in Sidi Bouzid, Monastir, Kairouan, Kef. A sit-in in Tunis in which MM activists spend the night in front of the parliament (the police snatch the tent).
July 18, 2017: A protest in front of the parliament in Tunis. Protests also held in Jendouba, Meknesi, Djerba and Paris.
September 12, 2017: A protest in front of the theatre.
September 13, 2017: A protest in front of the parliament. Protesters are attacked by the police. Approval of the reconciliation law.
September 14, 2017: Protests in Sidi Bouzid, Gafsa, Tozeur, Gaserine, Sousse, Monastir and Sfax.
September 15, 2017: A press conference with the latest updates on the law, corruption in Tunisia, and the MM movement’s next moves. A protest in Bizerte.
September 16, 2017: A “March against Mafia Rule” in Tunis.
September 19, 2017: Submission of a statement of appeal on the constitutionality of the law.
September 20, 2017: A protest in Jarjis.
October 17, 2017: The interim body to verify the constitutionality of laws announces the transmission of the law to the President of the country as they failed to vote.
October 20, 2017: The President signs the bill into law.
Internal Dynamics: Horizontality
Like other youth-led campaigns, MM’s central Tunis chapter attempted to organize and mobilize according to ‘horizontality.’’ The origins of the idea in the Tunisian context derive from an organization called T7arekwhose purpose is to educate various groups on the fundamentals of horizontality. T7arek drew inspiration from and was in contact with international organizations who used horizontality as an organizing ethos, such as Podemos and Occupy. As one of the members of T7arekput it:
“Horizontality functions like the body/heart mechanism does. The heart contains all the vital elements of the organization such as documentation, drafting/editing, finance, law and communication, while the body consists of what is functional/operational: different groups, whether cultural, artistic, environmental, etc. These [smaller] groups are completely independent and whenever they need help in a specific area then the role of the heart is to intervene and assist. They are autonomous to the point where if one group decides to function vertically internally, it is totally up to them to do so, and we don’t decide on how they should operate” (Personal interview with Olfa Khaled).
The central heart is therefore responsible for delegating responsibilities into smaller hearts [technical committees] of about 5 people, where each is responsible for overseeing specific tasks (financial, legal, communication, etc.). If one of these smaller committees expands in membership, then it is divided it into sub-committees, each working on a specific task. Each of these functions independently and once it fulfills its mission, it returns to the heart with the outcomes (propositions) and the final decision is presented to the body for approval. In the case of objections, convincing arguments premised on evidence and facts must be presented. “There is no “no” for the sake of objecting. At this level, the representative of the group (heart) who attended larger meeting (body) should go back to discussion with the group and come back with an alternative proposition. Each committee (heart) has a coordinator in addition to a general coordinator of the whole body. Once the body coordinator liaises with all the hearts’ coordinators and gathers all final-team propositions regarding a specific issue, a general decision should be either approved or rejected in a big assembly” (Ibid).
At the height of the MM movement there were around 130-200 internal members and 70,000 Facebook followers. While the majority of members were young and identified with a left-leaning politics, the only stipulation to participating as a ‘member’ in the movement is that one ‘joins’ as an individual—not as a member of a political party, civil society organization, etc. “The only condition to join MM is to take the political hat off” (Personal interview with MM activist).
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
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Analysis and Lessons Learned
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The section “Major Projects and Events” is based on interviews, secondary sources, and internal documents provided by MM activists to the original submitter of this case entry, Matt Gordner. Most (but not all) of the activists' material was independently verified by the original submitter.
Sofien Ben Jaballah. “Youth Campaigns in Tunisia (Fech Nestanaou Campaign as a Model),” in In Sociology: Protest, Organization, and Tunisian Youth.” RAJ(2018) [Arabic].
Chomiak, Laryssa and Lana Salman. "Refusing to Forgive: Tunisia's Maneesh M'Sameh Campaign." Middle East Report 46, no. 4 (01, 2016): 28-32.