DISSIDENT WATCH: MOHSEN MARZOUK
By J. Scott Carpenter
Born in July, 1965, and raised in a poor, working-class neighborhood in Sfax, Marzouk has long been politically active. When he was thirteen, he joined a student movement aimed at challenging the rigid control of the governing party. At fourteen, authorities expelled him from his high school for his "political activities."
At his parents' urging, Marzouk ultimately reentered and finished high school in Sfax before entering the University of Tunis. There, he became involved in student politics and ultimately became one of the student movement's national leaders. In his final year, 1987, Tunisia's secret police arrested him for political activities. He was held for a number of days somewhere in the Ministry of Interior headquarters complex, where he was interrogated and tortured. Authorities later transferred him to a forced labor camp in the southern desert of Tunisia, where he spent a year doing "military service."
Even after his release, Marzouk remained active in student politics, working to reconstitute the long-moribund Tunisian Students' Union and eventually being elected to its executive bureau. Tolerated as a nuisance by the government, Marzouk ultimately found some protection by joining the El Taller Foundation, an international nongovernmental organization affiliated with Nelson Mandela, as Director of its Arab Region Program, focusing primarily on human rights and civil society development.
Today, Marzouk believes that the sterile opposition in which he has participated is not the answer. "Opposing the outdated regimes only verbally, while the very structures of civil society are vulnerable and ill-formed, amounts to nothing," he says. "Tunisian civil society should change its methods and strategies if it is to contribute to starting and sustaining the democratization process." 
To advance political reform beyond Tunisia, Marzouk established the Al-Kawakibi Democracy Transition Center, an organization to link regional democracy activists with other like-minded people from around the world; its goal is to professionalize the next generation of democracy activists so that, when change comes, these individuals are ready for it.
Marzouk leads that new breed.
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J. Scott Carpenter is the Keston Family Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Director of its Project Fikra, which focuses on empowering Arab moderates and constitutional democrats in their struggles against dictatorship and Islamic extremism.
The foregoing article by J. Scott Carpenter was originally published in the Middle East Quarterly, Summer, 2008, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum, a foreign policy think tank which seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, defining U.S. interests to include fighting radical Islam, working for Palestinian Arab acceptance of the State of Israel, improving the management of U.S. efforts to promote constitutional democracy in the Middle East, reducing America's energy dependence on the Middle East, more robustly asserting U.S. interests vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia, and countering the Iranian threat. (Article URL: http://www.meforum.org/article/1973)
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