I-WATCH acts as the Tunisians watchdog after the Arab Spring

Monday, November 2, 2015 - 16:12

Five years after the revolution Tunisia is described as the best Arab example of  a successful revolution but according to I-WATCH there is still much to fight for, both in public institutions and in terms of abuse of power and corruption. Next month the organisation will open a counseling and advocacy center for corruption victims and 'whistleblowers' which constitute a major threat to democracy in Tunisia.

Despite the fact that the Tunisian people have overturned the former president from power, got free constitution, freedom of expression and successive governments since 2011, the democratization process is still in a critical phase. Therefore ActionAid's partner I-WATCH is working to strengthen public involvement in debate, information and direct observation of national examinations.

I-WATCH was founded in 2011 and today works to help corruption victims and witnesses. The organization currently operates as a "watchdog" that works to strengthen transparency and fighting corruption in the governmental, political and economic institutions. Since the revolution the cases of corruption have exploded and the organization plays with other Tunisian organizations an important stabilizing role for the society.

"Changing the prevailing mindset is needed where in Tunisia today exists an accepted perception that bribery and favoritism are accepted. If you know the right person or you pay money under the table you get your wish fulfilled. Otherwise, you have to put up with oppression and abuse of power," says Intissar who sits as a legal consultant at I-WATCH in Tunesia.

Although the Northern African country has  overturned the former President, the society is still marked by 54 years of autocratic sham democracy where the first president Habib Bourguiba came to power after the country's independence, then Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who was ousted by the revolution in 2011. Tunisia has since its independence in 1956 been subject to a strict control apparatus which prohibited associations, NGOs and political utterances.

"Before the Revolution, the prevailing mentality was fear so that people were afraid  to speak out or get engaged in political or civil society. You were afraid to express an opinion which would not satisfy the other parties but I-WATCH made this possible and we continue to fight until our society is on the right track towards democratization," explains Intissar, noting that the demand for help is growing.

Since September this year I-WATCH has received more than 27 corruption cases so the need to support the victims and spread information about corruption with negative outcomes on society is important. According Intissar it is not only necessary to fight corruption and abuse of power in government and political institutions but it is also necessary to fight to change the mindset of the individual citizen.

The revolt started namely according to Wafaa Hamoudi, the legal advisor and coordinator, at I-WATCH as a result of the widespread corruption of Ben Ali's family sitting heavily on the country´s finances and oppressed people.

"Integrity and transparency are the cornerstones of a successful democratization process so it's only when you have achieved them in a community, you can have a successful democratic governance. We must remember that what  many demonstrators protested against at the start of the Tunisian revolution was corruption," says Wafaa.

Today I-WATCH serves as a popular watchdog which observes elections and national debates and has hundreds of volunteers attached.

"The revolution is more than about political freedom. We must work to break the locked mindset and create equality economically as well as politically. When young Mohamed Bouazizi was an expression of powerlessness, high unemployment and economic constraints Tunisia hit the most vulnerable in society hard, while related people to the deposed Ben Ali travelled in private jets and had many investments," says Wafaa.

The development that has happened in the Tunisian civil society creates an alternative popular power in Tunisia which benefits people - and which today are more aware of the popular interest rather than the individual.

ActionAid has worked with I-WATCH in Tunisia to support their efforts to fight corruption and make young people aware of their abilities to contribute and engage in the local community - so they can become a global voice against the authorities and assure transparency going forward.