article/chapitre Imageun

The ignorance of dignity: The contagion of populism in Tunisian-European relations

« Dignity! Tunisians call “their” revolution Thawrat al-Karama [ثورةالكرامة], the Revolution of Dignity. Often referred to as the “Arab Spring”, the Tunisian revolution of 2010–2011 quickly spread to other countries in the region and is considered the first prototype of “post-modern revolutions” (Badie, 2021). By transnationalizing the revolts and giving them worldwide visibility, calls for dignity gained the status of a global mobilizing force. Now, twelve years later, the Tunisian people’s demand for dignity remains ignored by both Tunisian and European leaders – despite the latter’s persistent articulation of support and claim to a partnership ‘based on shared values, the promotion of democracy, rule of law, respect for human rights and social cohesion’ (EEAS, 2023).

We critically reflect here upon Tunisia’s political evolution towards increasing authoritarianism that, cynically, goes hand in hand with a massive extension of European funds to Tunisia. Human dignity plays no role in this cooperation. Instead, the control of human mobility is the key policy field. EU policies follow the twofold objective of limiting migration to Europe and of tapping into Tunisia’s reservoir of skilled labour for sectors suffering a shortage in Europe. In conversation with recent political geographic research on migration management and right-wing populism in and around Europe (Cobarrubias et al., 2023; İşleyen & El Qadim, 2023), we explore in this guest editorial how human beings are selected as those who are “desired” and those who are a “burden” (Rouland, 2021) in contemporary Tunisian-European relations. »