Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat Interview: Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat-In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki spoke about the Tunisian revolution, the current political situation in the country, and his view on the Mali crisis, among other issues.

The Tunisian president opined that the Tunisian revolution’s main causes were economic and social, while he also talked about the “difficult” alliance with the Islamist Ennahda movement.

Marzouki became Tunisia’s fifth president on 12 December, 2011. He is the founder of the Congress for the Republic party which won the second highest number of seats in the 23 October Constituent Assembly elections.

The following is the full text of the interview:

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your assessment of the current political situation in the Arab Spring states, particularly in terms of their political and economic stagnation?

[Marzouki] I do not see it that way from my standpoint. On the contrary, the revolution achieved at least two important goals in Tunisia in terms of its psychological impact; Tunisians changed from subjects to citizens, while their relationship with the state and themselves also changed.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your take on the economic situation?

[Marzouki] Tunisia started the revolution to secure economic and social rights, not to impose Islamic Sharia law or for patriotic slogans about nationalism. Nonetheless, economic and social rights are not established overnight. We were able to stop the bleeding caused by corruption and diagnose the ailments which were preventing investment. The economy was impeded and experiencing negative growth. However the growth rate has improved recently reaching 3.5 percent, and after the economic crash this began rising once more.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Despite the growth in production, according to the figures you mentioned, aren’t these still much lower than what they were previously under the former regime?

[Marzouki] Yes, that is true, but the former regime falsified statistics. If the economy had been growing at the rate they claimed, then the revolution would not have occurred. Our numbers are accurate, and growth will be distributed in a just manner so that all may benefit, without certain groups or classes establishing monopolies.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your plan to get out of the economic crisis? Will the government rely on financial aid and loans from Middle Eastern countries to jumpstart the economies which have faltered in the Arab Spring states?

[Marzouki] The Arab countries differ from one another. Libya does not need aid from the Gulf countries or the international community; it is a wealthy, exporting nation. In Egypt, the situation is different. As for Tunisia, it does not have a problem with financing, the issue lies in overcoming the lack of investment research, bureaucratic procedures, and legal obstacles which are preventing the full potential of this financing from being realised. The issue is not the amount of money, but rather which programs will absorb these funds. The solution is in laying out sound investment policy which distributes the funds in a just manner. Once that is done, the investment issue will resolve itself and we will not need to ask for loans from the Gulf or from Europe. We must establish a sound investment environment that will attract businessmen and investors to invest with us so that we may become self-dependent.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are rumors that Mr. Baghdadi Mahmudi was extradited as part of a financial deal, and that there is another deal valued at $200 million for the extradition of Senussi. Is there any truth to these allegations?

[Marzouki] This is false. Tunisia would never trade its sovereignty for any amount of money. Mr. Baghdadi Mahmudi was extradited against my will, and this issue caused a conflict between myself and the prime minister regarding the purviews of our offices. He viewed this (deal) as being in the interests of Tunisia; however I opposed it because it went against his human rights, therefore I took the dispute to the administrative government which ruled in my favor on the basis that it was legally unviable. I emphasize once again that Tunisia would never trade its sovereignty for any sum of money.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you see your alliance with the Ennahda movement?

[Marzouki] It is a necessary but difficult alliance. Part of the Tunisian people is modernist, while another part is conservative. Up until now, modernists have ruled Tunisia. For a time they ruled with iron and fire, ignoring the conservative half of the country. We do not want that to happen again. We want the opposite for the Islamists. The prisons are always filled with members of this group or that. Thus it is imperative that Tunisia be controlled by moderates so that all Tunisians can coexist. We must remove the curse of autocracy and exclusion.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about your alliance?

[Marzouki] It is a difficult coalition due to the different in frames of reference and worldviews. We are attempting to overcome the difficulties of a coalition government together.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You spoke of the need for moderate parties to participate in government; do you feel that there are extremist groups within the coalition, and in particular among the Islamists?

[Marzouki] The overarching direction of the coalition government is one of moderation, and members from both sides are progressively becoming more moderate. This government-praise be to God-is still operating, and God willing, it will continue to do so.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You previously accused Ennahda of trying to assert control over the political and administrative levers of the state; how do you gauge their control over these levers at the moment?

[Marzouki] I always stress that participation in government should be based on impartiality, openness, and not crossing red lines; I felt what was happening at that time violated my red lines.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does your wariness regarding controlling the levers of the state have any connection to what happened in Egypt regarding the ruling Freedom and Justice Party?

[Marzouki] It is not for me to judge the Egyptians. I am striving to make participative governance and a widely-agreed upon constitution the distinguishing features of the Tunisian political model. This is the platform which I am attempting to implement, and it requires a lot of political maturity and sacrifice.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] When monitoring the Muslim Brotherhood’s political manoeuvring and management, one can sense their lack of governing experience; what’s your view of this?

[Marzouki] There must be other parties working with it in government to help it overcome obstacles it might face. When any party dominates and controls the political scene, that party will slowly destroy itself and the country with it. The presence of multiple parties prevents one from establishing hegemony, which is both in the party’s interest and the interests of the country.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you not sense that Ennahda is exploiting you to their party’s advantage by propping you up as a representative of the civil current?

[Marzouki] That would be the case if the president accepted the role of a figure head, but I reject that. As a politician I play my part well and my independent manoeuvring worries some in Ennahda. I attempt to embrace the role of being the president of all Tunisians, not merely of a specific group.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Brotherhood is leaning on huge popularity and a well-established support structure. Where does the civil current draw its support from?

[Marzouki] The elections results showed that the Brotherhood and Islamists won 89 out of a possible 219 seats, with the rest going to civil and secularist parties, therefore one cannot say that the Ennahda represents the Tunisian people and the remaining parties are dust. With 89 seats Ennahda failed to form a government, and if not for the secular-moderate Congress for the Republic (CPR) and the Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties (FDTL), it would not have been able to form a government. Despite its large populist following, it is limited, and the next election will show that. Portraying Ennahda as a domineering party that enjoys the full support of the people is misleading. In Tunisia there must be counter-balancing political forces so that one group does not ride roughshod over all others.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Recently branches of the Muslim Brotherhood in the UAE and Kuwait have begun to coordinate with their Egyptian counterpart: Does the Tunisian government fear the influence of this organisation?

[Marzouki] We in Tunisia do not fear Ennahda, what we fear are Jihadist Salafist groups which are directly involved in violence and which pose a threat to national security; that’s what we fear. As long as there is a moderate Islamist party which accepts the rules of the game of democracy in accordance with the constitution, I have no problem with it, regardless of its relations abroad. Socialist parties also have external relations. What is important is that it makes decisions based on what is good for the nation and adheres to the democratic process. I do not pay any heed to the conspiracy that the Brotherhood will take over in Tunisia. Ennahda is first and foremost a Tunisian party; that it has relations with other countries does not affect me in the least.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Militias affiliated to Ennahda calling themselves Guardians of the Revolution recently attacked the al-Bagah al-Sabti Party; what it your position on them?

[Marzouki] I have met with all the political actors, even the non-violent Salafists, and I also met with these militias, as you call them. I asked them to clarify their position to me, and they assured me that they are civic groups, that they condemn violence, and that they have no connection to militias. Claiming that they are militias of Ennahda is not true. They are committed to working peacefully. If what they say is true, then they are welcome. If it is proved that they are militias, then they will face the penalty of the law.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Isn’t it possible that they are not telling the truth?

[Marzouki] Anything is possible; but to a politician it is actions that matter, not the intentions behind them.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the criticisms levelled at you by members of Ennahda? For example, that you cannot live in Carthage Palace and at the same time play the role of the opposition.

[Marzouki] I do not play the role of opposition, and I am a reliable friend, and much of what was said has since been retracted.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What of the criticisms that Rachid Ghannouchi directed towards you?

[Marzouki] I have a good relationship with Rachid Ghannouchi. We have been friends for more than 30 years.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think that your relationship with Ennahda is in its honeymoon phase?

[Marzouki] It has little to do with a honeymoon. We want to be responsible. Tunisia cannot bear any rivalries. It needs to safely cross this critical stage. It is a pluralistic country and we are trying to prevent violence from engulfing society by finding points of convergence. We are working to achieve the objectives of the revolution peacefully despite the difficulties inherent in this.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there no strife between the prime minister, who adheres to Ennahda, and the president, who is of the civil current, regarding foreign policy, especially concerning neighboring countries?

[Marzouki] According to the regulations of the constitution, purview over foreign policy is shared between the prime minister and president. As of yet, we have had no differences regarding the policy platform, which includes the need to preserve our relations with Europe and we do not have discrepancies over the United States. Our public posturing has never clashed, and the only foreign policy issue over which we came to logger heads was that of Mr. Baghdadi Mahmudi.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the current situation in Mali?

[Marzouki] At a meeting of the National Security Council, attended by the foreign, defence, and interior ministers, the commander-in-chief, the president of the constituent assembly, and the prime minister, we agreed that we understand the logic of the French intervention which took place at the request of the Malian government. However we want this intervention to end as soon as possible so that an African political solution can be found. What I fear most is that Mali turns into a new Afghanistan and a hotbed of terrorism.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that you all support the French intervention?

[Marzouki] We did not discuss the matter in terms support, but rather we looked at the reality of the situation. They came at the request of the legitimate local government and for compelling reasons. However we asked that they end this intervention as soon as possible.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] From your point of view what is the nature of these groups in Mali?

[Marzouki] Some of the groups have legitimate grievances concerning the rights of the Tuareg people, and we have long demanded that these rights be respected within the framework of Malian unity, whereas other groups are international terrorist organisations with extremist tendencies.