Middle East Studies

Douaa Sheet

Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology, the City University of New York (CUNY)

Transitional Justice and the Democratization Process in Post-Uprising Tunisia, 2014-2018

In the aftermath of its 2011 uprising, Tunisia launched transitional justice proceedings to investigate the human rights abuses of the former regime, recommend reparations for its victims, and propose specific institutional and judicial state reforms. In this paper, Douaa Sheet examines Tunisia’s experience with one of the main mechanisms of transitional justice, the Truth and Dignity Commission that was inaugurated in 2014. She focuses on one of the central controversies that came to define the Commission’s tenure: Is it ethical for former political prisoners to seek monetary reparations for past violations perpetrated by the former regime when the country is suffering economically? The paper chronicles how the secular left rejected this legal tradition of human rights, the Truth and Dignity Commission, calling it an “Islamist fabrication” (bed‘a), primarily because Islamists were the primary beneficiaries of the reparations fund as they constitute the largest victim group. This paper examines the ethical line of reasoning underlying the secular left’s criticism of the Islamists, outlining what they believed “political resistance with dignity” ought to look like. Douaa Sheet shows how the left turned to moral disparagement of Islamists as the only trope powerful enough to trump the legality of the fund. This had consequences for how both groups defined dignity, rights, and redress. It also had consequences for former political prisoners’ access to reparations. Through interviews with Commission members and staff, the victims involved, and the lawyers and activists mediating on their behalf, this paper brings into ethnographic focus how moral claims have shaped democratization efforts in post-uprising Tunisia. More broadly, it examines how the Truth and Dignity Commission’s proceedings have shaped the Tunisian Public’s perception of the adequacy of such mechanisms of human rights in addressing past injustices and bringing about the futures they desire.

Douaa Sheet is a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the Graduate Center, the City University of New York (CUNY). Her work addresses questions of ethics and morality, theories of justice, human rights, and the politics of new social media. For her dissertation research she conducted fieldwork in Tunisia in the aftermath of the 2011 uprising. She worked closely with civil society stakeholders, human rights lawyers, jurists, international rights experts, and the victims involved in the Truth and Dignity Commission’s efforts to address the former regime’s violations against its citizens. This research project addresses her broader interests in the temporality of violence, the ethics of political action, and alternative frameworks of restitution and justice in the Middle East and North Africa. She has taught at Baruch and Hunter College, CUNY.