Even though Omezzine Khlifa has founded a women’s leadership group, worked as a media and telecommunications engineer, and served as adviser to the Minister of Finance and Tourism, she would not be eligible to apply for Tunisia’s Independent Board of Elections (ISIE).
She has not yet reached the age of 35, a recently announced prerequisite for membership on the board, which will oversee Tunisia’s general elections.
To protest what she considers to be ageist criteria, Omezzine, a member of the Ettakatol party, has launched an awareness campaign denouncing the exclusion of youth from the ISIE. Through “Call for Nominations for Less than 35 years – Our Goal: 100 CVs,” she hopes to gather 100 CVs of talented, responsible, and qualified young Tunisians, who would serve the board well, although they are unable to do so.
“A generation full of innovation and inspiration can’t find itself in any decision-making positions,” Omezzine, 30, said. “The generation that first sparked the revolution and caused the change of history has no right to be included in important actions, which affect their future.”
She said she thought the recent ISIE decision was just one example of a growing disconnect in the country between youth and older generations, who are supposed to make decisions on their behalf.
Omezzine acknowledged that the law is final and that this campaign cannot change it – it can only draw attention to the exclusion youth are facing in post-revolutionary Tunisia.
“Our powers, energy, and competencies are being discarded,” she said. “We have all qualifications but are being restricted because of our age.”
Such exclusion is undemocratic, she said.
Omezzine said she sees great danger in eliminating youth from decision-making processes.
“This decision will hinder the youth’s willingness to participate in the coming elections,” she said. “Last elections’ youth participation was almost 17 percent of the total voters. So how are we expecting to have a better chance in the coming elections without the youth’s enthusiasm and participation?”
Sana Mersni, a member of the National Constituent Assembly, told Tunisia Live that the age requirement for the ISIE was originally proposed to be 40 to 45. But younger members such as herself were able to negotiate to lower the age to 35.
She also mentioned that those who apply must have a minimum 10 years of professional experience, and that the assumption was that it would be hard for a 35-year-old to achieve this.
“I, as a Tunisian youth, support this campaign as these young people demonstrate a high level of awareness, responsibility, and a willingness to be involved,” Mersni said. “Innovation is what we need, and it is what the youth can offer.”
According to Neji Jmal, an NCA member from Ennahdha, “I would prefer this campaign would have taken place while the law was still under discussion in December.”
There is a possibility to change the law in the future, but for this year’s elections it is probably too late, he said.
Jmal added, “I support the youth in what they do and hope they bring about a future positive change.”