The Arab Spring Exception: Why Tunisia's Local Elections Matter

May 7, 2018

Tunisia was the catalyst for the Arab Spring seven years ago. After historic municipal elections in this North African country, we ask—why has Tunisia succeeded in achieving democracy when others have failed?

And craft store giant Hobby Lobby made news last year for illegally buying thousands of ancient artifacts that had been looted from Iraq. Now, the U.S. is returning them to the Iraqi government. We hear from an art and cultural heritage lawyer who advised the U.S. government on the case.

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  • Fadil Aliriza - Independent journalist and researcher who has been covering Tunisia since the 2011 Arab Spring revolution (@FadilAliriza)
  • Caroleen Sayej - Associate Professor of Government and International Relations and co-director of the Global Islamic Studies Program at Connecticut College. She is the author of Patriotic Ayatollahs: Nationalism in Post-Saddam Iraq (April 2018)
  • Leila Amineddoleh - Art and cultural heritage attorney, and professor of art crime at NYU. She served as a legal expert on cultural heritage to the Eastern District of New York on the case against Hobby Lobby (@LAmineddoleh)


Washington Post: Tunisia’s first post-uprisings local elections are Sunday. Can they bolster citizens’ belief in democracy? – “For the next phase of the Tunisian transition to succeed, local governance will be crucial. While the initial transition period focused on identity issues related to the relationship between religion and the state, recent developments have turned attention to the country’s persistent regional inequality.”

New York Times: Belt-Tightening Demands Put Tunisia’s Democracy at Risk - “Tunisia, often hailed as the sole success story of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, is in danger of being crippled by budget-cutting economic policies that critics say are imperiling the country’s democratic experiment.”

NPR: Hobby Lobby's Smuggled Artifacts Will Be Returned To Iraq - “Nearly 4,000 ill-gotten artifacts will be returned to Iraq on Wednesday, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says. The ancient objects were bought by Hobby Lobby, a national chain of arts and crafts stores, then smuggled into the United States in violation of federal law.”

Chion Wolf contributed to this show.

Correction: Professor Sayej misstated a number, saying Qatar pledged $400 billion to Libya's rebellion. The correct figure is $400 million.