Tunisian and Turkish youth build bridges
Tunisian and Turkish youth came together to share experiences and develop relationships.
By J. Paul Barker for SES Türkiye in Istanbul – 04/12/12
More than 50 politically active youth from Tunisia met with their Turkish counterparts for a six-day programme in Istanbul, sharing their experiences and working together to better engage in shaping their respective countries.
Turkish and Tunisian youth pose for a group picture during the Hand in Hand programme. [Rasha Haffar]
The meeting, which began on November 18th, came as Turkey and Tunisia look to foster relations following a popular revolution last year that toppled long-time Tunisian dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, setting off a string of revolutions in the Arab Middle East. Tunisia has since started a slow and uncertain political and economic transition headed by the moderately Islamist Ennahda Party, which has been likened to the AKP.
According to polls conducted by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, 80 percent of Tunisians have a positive perception of Turkey.
Learning from Turkish youth and seeing their potential and capability was an encouragement and inspiration, said Racha Haffar, a graduate student studying international relations and activist in Tunisian civil society.
"We can always learn from Turks as they are ahead of us," Haffar told SES Türkiye.
"When it comes to Turkish youth, I believe they can bring a strong helping hand to how they managed to evolve in such a complex society where they struggle between modernism and religion, to be in the 21st century without forgetting their roots and especially how they managed to be a striking and valuable force in their society," Tarek Abdellatif, CEO of the web design agency Webvertigo and the co-founder of Tunisian Association for International Cultural Exchange, told SES Türkiye.
"I believe Tunisians are on the first step of a huge ladder." Standing on the first step of the ladder may sound like a problem to some people, Abdellatif said, "but the way I see it the first stages helps you to be more creative and more strategic about climbing the ladder in the smartest way possible."
The Tunisian participants were not the only ones who benefited.
Merve Topdaş, a financial auditor and member of the AKP Istanbul Youth Foreign Affairs Commission, spoke of the accomplishments that young people in Tunisia and across the region have made since the onset of the Arab revolutions.
Interacting with Tunisian youth allowed her to better understand what the removal of a dictator really means to the people.
"After I met the people of Tunisia, my views about their culture and lifestyle have changed," she said. "I had more realistic opinions about the life and reactions of the people after the revolution."
This was the goal of the programme. By spending time together young people are able to better understand and encourage each other as they face challenges. Speaking at the programme's opening ceremony, Idris Naim Şahin, Turkey's interior minister, spoke of the shared interests of countries surrounding the Mediterranean. The events affecting these states, from Tunisia and Libya, to Israel, Palestine or Syria are of interest to Turkey as well, Şahin said.
As outlined in the AKP's 2023 Political Vision, Turkey looks at the revolutions in the region with optimism and sense of leadership.
"Turkey is now seen as a source of inspiration from Morocco to Afghanistan. Turkey has become a major player that contributes to peace and stability in its region and the global order," the AKP platform states, noting that the Arab youth have been "trailblasers of the revolutions."
To play a major role, Turkey is actively engaging its neighbours on a variety of levels to deepen the relationships between countries.
"The Hand in Hand Tunisia programme is part of the AKP Middle East Youth Project to bring together young people from many countries to develop democracy," Nurettin Oğuz Alhan¸ a writer and one of the hosts, told SES Türkiye.
"They want to bring together the future deputy prime ministers, ministers and journalists from other countries," Alhan said.
The meeting, organised by the AKP Istanbul Youth Branch, is the third of four planned "Hand in Hand" programmes. The Tunisia event followed similar programmes participants from Egypt in November 2011 and Libya in June 2012. The fourth program will be organised with Yemen in 2013.