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Transcript: Tunisia: A revolutionary model?
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Last Modified: 13 Feb 2012 08:00

This is the transcript for the Empire episode Tunisia: A revolutionary model? (Thursday, January 26, 2012)

Narrator

Tunisia is under democratic rule after decades of dictatorship, individual acts of courage launched the Jasmine Revolution.

A protester

The Tunisian people are free.

Narrator

Rocked the Middle East and inspired the Arab Spring. but the president says it won't be easy.

Moncef Marzouki - Tunisian president

People are expecting us to do miracles.  

Narrator

Will the Islamists honour their promises?

Rashid Ghanouchi - leader, Ennahda party

There is no contradiction between Sharia law and democracy.

Narrator

And can the new leaders fix the economic problems that triggered the revolution in the first place?

Marwan Bishara

This is Empire.

Hello and welcome to Empire.  From the birthplace of the Arab revolutions - from Tunisia - a country of 10 million people that helped transform the entire Arab world of 300 million people. For long they’ve asked what is wrong with the Arabs? Well today, we’re asking what has gone right in Tunisia and the rest of the Arab world?

Narrator

Revolutions require individual moments of bravery. 

And when people are inspired by an act of supreme defiance...the collective determination to stand together takes on momentum. It is then that the unthinkable becomes possible.

A protester

We want to be free.

Narrator

This is why the people of the Arab Spring have taught the world a lesson...that tyranny can be trumped by people armed with technology.

And once those images and information were picked up by the international media, particularly satellite television...the message became amplified around the world. But that amplification doesn't tell the whole story, because by its nature it doesn't provide context.

Faisal Abbas - journalist and Middle East blogger

There is no question that there has absolutely been an impact of social media, but we have to clarify and it’s very important to do so, that social media does not create revolutions, nor does it necessarily make them successful.

To go to the extent to say that what’s been happening in the Arab world is a Twitter revolution or a Facebook revolution, I think is a bit far fetched.

Narrator

These revolutions did not happen in a vccuum. In fact, much of the vital groundwork for these cascading uprisings has been in place for decades. The message was there, it just lacked the medium necessary to make the invisible visible.

What has made this revolution successful is the collective. Across the Arab world, it is a story involving people from all walks of life, professionals, religious leaders, the middle classes, students, all taking courage from one another.

These events took the West by surprise, especially those who long looked at the arab world through the prisms of Israel, petrol dollars or terrorism.

Rachel Shabi - journalist and author

For the Western view of the Arab world you can either be a fanatic or you can be a victim. And now suddenly you know we’ve had these images in the last year of the Arab world as a place where people are empowered and protesting and they are politically articulate and dynamic and creative and all those things that we’ve seen.

Narrator

The demographic time bomb that exploded last year was the culmination of decades of neglect.

Every uploaded film became a political commentary. Every text message an editorial and every click of a camera was a vote, despite the deadly consequences.

Rachel Shabi

When I’ve spoken to women who’ve been involved in these protests, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re in Egypt or Libya or Yemen, they all say the same thing.  

That experience has been transformative for them and once you have that experience, it’s not like you’re going to suddenly say alright job done, now I can go back home. I mean all these women are saying that they can’t go back, that there is no going back.

Narrator

The difficult work is only now beginning and the outcomes are far from certain. The new leaders must find a way to reconcile social justice with economic progress.

And the people must be free to judge those leaders on their own terms.

Faisal Abbas

If the majority of the people want to vote in any religious group, then you know the world should leave them alone, because this is what democracy is about.  And let people learn from their mistakes.

Narrator

These new steps are more than just the wording of a new constitution or the date of the new elections. Reconciling the society to include the collective will be the measure of success.

Failure will only come if those who take power forget why the people took to streets in the first place.

Marwan Bishara

To best understand where Tunisia is heading, I sat down with a most unlikely president, Moncef Marzouki.  Long invisible to the rest of the world, here in Tunisia he is known to have been an important political figure and a human rights activist.  Today the spotlights are on Marzouki to provide answers.  In a first major interview with an English network, Marzouki received us in his new offices.

Marwan Bishara

Mr President, welcome to Empire.

I heard that it was here that the deposed President Ben Ali, made his last speech.  And here you are, the President of the new Tunisia, it’s a major symbolic change in the country. What does it mean to you?

Moncef Marzouki

Well let me tell you that I myself am very surprised to be here, you know, I never expected to become the President. I was you know a human rights activist for about 20 years, so I didn’t think that really I would see a day where Tunisia would be free and independent and this is why I am so proud and so happy and so relieved also. But I feel that the responsibility is huge, because we have so many problems to tackle.  And well I hope I will do better than Ben Ali.

Marwan Bishara

I am sure you will.

Let me ask you, before we get to the whole idea of the management of expectations, I heard you along with the head of parliament and the head of government, speak at the first anniversary celebrations. You sounded like you were a political orchestra. As if you were speaking from the same page. Are you as united as you’ve given that impression during that day?

Moncef Marzouki

Yes, yes. And I will tell you why.  Because I know Mr Jebali for more than three decades  and I know Dr Ben Jaafar also for more than 20 years, we worked together at the Human Right League and we have been harassed by the same regime and we have had a lot of time to talk about Tunisia when we are in exile. I talked a lot with Rashid Ghannouchi because you know that Rashid Ghannouchi is from the Islamist trend and I am from secularist trend, so it wasn’t easy to talk together and to have common ideas. But we did it and we are proud of it.

Marwan Bishara

So let’s talk about that.

Moncef Marzouki

Yes.

Marwan Bishara

So here you were.

Moncef Marzouki

Yes.

Marwan Bishara

The three that we call invisible Arabs.

Moncef Marzouki

Yes.
Marwan Bishara

You were invisible to the outside world.

Moncef Marzouki

Yes

Marwan Bishara

To the international media, and suddenly you became visible.

Moncef Marzouki

Yes.

Marwan Bishara

Today you are, the spotlight is on you.

Moncef Marzouki

Yes.

Marwan Bishara

So I ask you, how do you reconcile your ideological differences?

Moncef Marzouki

By forgetting them, by forgetting them, because we understand that the challenges now in Tunisia are economical and not ideological. And we have decided to put aside our differences and to tackle the real problems. We have been trained to move in this direction because you know I was the President of Human Rights, Tunisian Human Right League and within the league we are Islamists, liberals, leftists, nationalists and coming from many, many political parties, but we were dealing with the same problem; the repression, torture and human right violations. So we have learned to forget our differences and to tackle the real problem.

Marwan Bishara

I am not going to even ask you if in the new Tunisia there are going to be violating human rights or torturing.

Marwan Bishara

Oh no, no.

Marwan Bishara

Considering you’ve been a victim for so many years.  But let me ask you the following.  You need to right a new constitution for the new Tunisia.

Moncef Marzouki

Yes.

Marwan Bishara

One of the main questions that in everyone’s mind and those Tunisians I spoke to here in the capital, are worried about a polarisation between a civic, democratic, secular state and a Sharia Islamic law type state. How will you reconcile that in the new consensual constitution?

Moncef Marzouki

I think it’s not a real issue because first of all Ennahda has never asked for Sharia, Mr Rashid Ghannouchi never talked about you know any violation of the right of freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of association. So in fact there is no danger at all, because our Islamists here in Tunisia are very modern and very secular. It’s quite different you know, we don’t have Taliban here, we don’t have even Salafists like in Egypt.

Marwan Bishara

You don’t have Salafists?

Moncef Marzouki

Yes we do have Salafists, but they are not as important as they are in Egypt.

Marwan Bishara

Right.

Moncef Marzouki

They don’t play any political role in fact, because they are not elected under constitutions.  On the other hand, you have two secular presidents, the president of the Assembly and the president of the Republic.

And both are extremely cautious about protecting and promoting women’s rights, human rights, so there is no danger. And then you have two protectors, so there is no problem. It’s not an issue in Tunisia.

Marwan Bishara

So you are sure…

Moncef Marzouki

Yes.

Marwan Bishara

…that you will come to a formulation of sorts amongst yourselves in the near future.

Moncef Marzouki

Yes, yes.  

Marwan Bishara

On this question.

Moncef Marzouki

Writing down of the constitution will be extremely easy because in fact everybody agrees about the fact that we are not going to have a religious state; we are going to have a secular state. Everybody believes that we have to protect human rights; everybody is agreed that we should improve democracy here in this country, not only cap it but also improve it. So we are not going to have any kind of this problem. The problem will be probably how to tackle the economic and the social problem. Here are the differences between Islamists and myself, for instance.

Marwan Bishara

I agree, let’s get to that then.

Moncef Marzouki

Yes.

Marwan Bishara

Just before that, just one last question on this idea of the cultural identity of the country.

Moncef Marzouki

Yes.

Marwan Bishara

It seems to me like a dream scenario also for the rest of the Arab world.

Marwan Bishara

Do you think Tunisia or the success of Tunisia on this front is something that could be, not copied, but certainly inspiring to other revolutions in the Arab world?

Moncef Marzouki

Well we are a modest nation.  We are not going to say look we are the example you have to copy us.  What we would like to do is to succeed our own experience. But if other Arab people are interested by our experience, why not? I think the only issue that really we can be an example, the fact that in Tunisia moderate secular and moderate Islamist decided to work together…

Moncef Marzouki

…to forget about their differences and to tackle the social and economic problem. This is probably the success story of the political situation in Tunisia and I hope that our brothers in Egypt or tomorrow in Syria or in Yemen would benefit from this experience.

Marwan Bishara

Mr President, you know I walked through the streets of Tunis and young people everywhere; this is a very young nation.  Expectations are high, impatience is running high.  How are you going to be able to deal with those very immediate economic needs in the country?

Moncef Marzouki

Yes this is the main challenge and I feel myself that our revolution is in danger, because if we do not succeed to tackle the problem, we could have a revolution within the revolution itself. So this would be probably the most difficult task to deal with, because I don’t imagine myself you know coming from this revolution, coming from the poor area, repressing people asking for their rights in those regions. So this is really it’s a very frustrating situation. But we cannot resolve the whole problem in just one month, you know, we have a very heavy heritage you know.

Marwan Bishara

Yes.

Moncef Marzouki

This country has been run by corrupted dictatorship for more than three decades, so people are expecting us to do a miracle, but you know are not god, so we cannot do miracles.  But I can assure you that we are working hard you know to, I wouldn’t say to solve the problems, but to put Tunisia on tracks. And so we expect that Tunisians would be wise enough to understand that we cannot do miracles.

Marwan Bishara

And you have these programmes in place now that you all agreed to?

Moncef Marzouki

Yes yes yes yes.  But you know, we need time, we need time, and this is why I am talking all the time to Tunisians, saying look we cannot do miracles, you have to wait. You waited for so many years, so please give us just one year.

Marwan Bishara

Mr President, one of the things that you mentioned in your speech and I could notice from your body language this meant something to you, which is the whole point of reconciliation between citizens and the security forces.  Seems this is a continuing issue in the country.  How are you going to reconcile the injustices that are associated with the security apparatus in the country with citizens that want a break with the past?

Moncef Marzouki

The first victim of the dictatorship was the security system itself you know, because this system has been so corrupted and so hated by the population. So now it’s very difficult for the system to reconstruct itself.  But we have to tackle also this problem, because no country can live without a security system.  Of course some criminal within this system have to be removed and you know go to trial. But at the same time we have also to explain to the population that we need a security system and to have to explain to the system itself that it has to apologise and it has to accept that it has to change completely the mentality, you know the way of doing, the behaviour, because now we are in a democratic system and no longer under dictatorship.  This would take time, but I am confident that we are going to reconcile all those different parts of the society.

Marwan Bishara

There are reports that you’re facing difficult challenges from within the security apparatus for the change that you are seeking.

Moncef Marzouki

Yes, sure, sure, because some people there are extremely upset about the fact that you know they have been linked with torture, with corruption. Of course they are afraid of being judged.  But we have to, first of all to… prove that this state, this government would reform the whole system. But we have also to prove that we are not going to take revenge, we are not interested in just punishing people. We would like also reconciliation.

Marwan Bishara

Mr President your country has gone through a radical transformation, mostly…

Moncef Marzouki

Yes.

Marwan Bishara

…through peaceful means.

Moncef Marzouki

Yes.

Marwan Bishara

But when you look around, whether it is Libya, your neighbour or it’s Yemen and certainly Syria. See things have gotten complicated there.  What do you advise?

Moncef Marzouki

Well I think we are very lucky in Tunisia, because the revolution was not very costful.  Even if you can say that we lost about 300 people and we have had more than 2000 injured young men.  This heavy cost, but when you compare it to what happened in Libya and Syria we can say thanks to god it’s not very high price.  But what I would like, what you know I really wanted the Arab revolution to be as peaceful as possible.  As democratic as possible.  And without no, you know, like what’s happening now in Syria, you know this problem of Shia and Sunni and..

This would be extremely dangerous for Syria, so what I hope that first of all the dictatorship be destructed, because really the dictatorship destroyed Syria.  And Syrians deserve democracy and I hope they will get rid of the dictator.

Marwan Bishara

So your official position …

Moncef Marzouki

Yes.

Marwan Bishara

…is that the Syrian…

Moncef Marzouki

Yes.

Marwan Bishara

…the Syrian president needs to go?

Moncef Marzouki

Yes, yes of course, we support fully, fully support the Syrian revolution. But as I told you, I would like it to be as democratic as possible, as peaceful as possible, but I know that the situation is extremely dangerous and extremely difficult in Syria.

Marwan Bishara

And you support a greater Arab role in Syria?

Moncef Marzouki

Yes, yes of course.

Marwan Bishara

And you are for the expansion of the Arab mission there and so on and so forth?

Moncef Marzouki

Why not? Why not? But we do not support any foreign intervention like in Libya now, because we do think that it would be dangerous not only for Syria, but for the whole region.

Marwan Bishara

So you think transition in Syria is…

Moncef Marzouki

Yes.

Marwan Bishara

…the next more important steps?

Moncef Marzouki

Yes,. Probably something like what happened in Yemen, you know, the president now is leaving Yemen.  Why not the same outcome in Yemen. This would be the best solution for everybody.

Marwan Bishara

I have noticed that you have invited and you’ve mostly had the presence, aside from the Emir of Qatar, you had the five Maghreb countries…represented in your first anniversary celebrations.

What’s your vision for the reinvention if you will of the relationship of the Maghreb countries?

Moncef Marzouki

Tunisia has no future; within Tunisia we have to open to the whole area, to the Maghreb.  And I think this year probably would be the year of the reconstruction of the Maghreb.

Marwan Bishara

Like a Common Market or a common union or…?

Moncef Marzouki

Yes a common union yes.

Marwan Bishara

A Maghreb union.

Moncef Marzouki

Yes the model is the European Union you know I think this is a very good model, we can copy it because it is a successful
Model.

Marwan Bishara

You see this Maghreb vision, is it also part of your Arab nationals vision…

Moncef Marzouki

Yes.

Marwan Bishara

…where this also becomes part of…

Marwan Bishara

…the greater unity among the Arabs?

Moncef Marzouki

Yes yes, I can’t imagine that Tunisia you know it can grow or improve its situation, economic situation, without the participation or Libya or Algeria.  We do need both neighbours.

Marwan Bishara

And you are a North African country, you’re an African country. You are a Mediterranean country.

Moncef Marzouki

Yes.

Marwan Bishara

You have special relations with Europe.

Moncef Marzouki

Yes.

Marwan Bishara

You’re an Arab country.

Moncef Marzouki

Yes.

Marwan Bishara

You’re also a leader in the Arab revolution.

Moncef Marzouki

Yes yes.

Marwan Bishara

How do you reconcile all those?  I mean you start with the Tunisia, Maghreb and then Arab and so on?

Moncef Marzouki

Yes, Tunisia is at a crossroad you know, Tunisia is African, Mediterranean and Arab, so we have to reconcile all the three positions.  And for Tunisia it’s a chance.  

Marwan Bishara

What’s your expectations of the West or of Europe and the United States…

Moncef Marzouki

We have to…

Marwan Bishara

…towards Tunisia and the Arab revolution?

Moncef Marzouki

We have to improve our relationships with those countries. I think we are going to improve them, because for the first time Western world will deal with democrats not corrupted people and this will be probably easier for them and easier for us. So I do expect to improve our relationship with the West, with Africa and with our Arab nation.

Marwan Bishara

And you look forward maybe to cement that into a new form of relationship based on something different from where the former president was?

Moncef Marzouki

Yes of course, because in fact you know, the former president was a sort of client you know, he was not a partner, we would like to be partners you know, to work with the other nation as partner and not as clients. This is the main difference.  

Marwan Bishara

As partner not as client, great.

Moncef Marzouki

Yes!

Marwan Bishara

Thank you so much.

Moncef Marzouki

Thank you, thank you.

END OF PART 1
 
Marwan Bishara

Welcome back. President Moncef Marzouki, as you heard earlier, is pretty certain about bridging the secular Islamist divide.  Many Tunisians are not as optimistic. Coupled with daunting economic challenges, the new Tunisian leaders have much to worry about.

Narrator

On February 02 last year one of the most shocking scenes of the Arab Spring...men riding camels and horses charging through the crowds in Egypt's Tahrir Square and brutally attacking the demonstrators indiscriminately with whips and swords.

By contrast, Tunisia's Jasmine revolution was remarkably restrained, with a death toll in the hundreds, not thousands or tens of thousands.

Lotfi Saibi - political analyst

The Tunisian revolution is very unique and will probably never be repeated anywhere else in the Arab world.

Narrator

Unlike in Egypt, many senior military commanders in Tunisia refused to fire on their own people. This patriotic restraint drew international praise.

Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani - Emir of Qatar

Tunisia has provided a humanitarian example that has impressed the world and the Tunisian army led by Lieutenant Rashid Bin Ammar provided an example of an army that is loyal to its people and the guardian of its institutions.

Narrator

This explains why optimism in Tunis is more evident than in Cairo.

Dr. Maha Azzam - author and Middle East expert

In the case of Egypt it faces a challenge to move from a society and a state where the military had a great deal of authority and continue to have authority and to move towards a civilian state.  And how they are going to dislodge the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces from this central role and return them to barracks.

Narrator

One thing these two nations do have in common is the remarkably simlar make up of their new transitional parliaments. The governments in both Tunisia and Egypt will be dominated by Islamist groups. This offers a vital clue about the priorities of the previously silent majority.

Dr. Maha Azzam

The results of the elections in both countries reflect the centrality of religion to the average individual and citizen in that country.  It doesn’t mean that they’re not concerned with economic issues, but they want clean politics, that they want a non corrupt society. But the results also show that they want to have the social fabric of the societies permeated by respect for the majority religions, Islam.

Narrator

And that respect means economic concerns and social justice must be treated as top priorities, or the people will deem these leaders failures.

Dr. Maha Azzam

The electorate in Tunisia and Egypt as elsewhere in the region, is no different to the electorate anywhere in the world. They want their politicians to deliver.

Narrator

One major challenge Tunisia faces is remembering why the peopel took to the streets in the first place.

Lotfi Saibi

It did not start because of the Nihab it did not start because of the issues that we seek today. These were people that had wanted and asked and finally had had enough with the lack of jobs.

Narrator
Rebuilding a fractured economy is essential, but no one under the illusion it will be easy.

Lotfi Saibi

We have now in less than a year a trade deficit in the billions of dollars.  We are importing almost twice as much and exporting half as little as we did you know only a year and a half ago.  

Narrator

However, the people here are merely asking that as this rebuilding begins, those in power are honest about the challenges they face.

Lotfi Saibi

The Tunisian people are very smart people.  They are very pragmatic people.  What the government needs to do is treat them as such.

Narrator

Apart from the economic demands, there are also larger concerns about teh motivations of different groups and again, a comparison with Egypt is useful.

The Muslim Brotherhood and Ennahda have both declared their support for democracy, but the intentions of the Salafists are far from clear.

Dr. Maha Azzam

The real test for the democratically elected governments of both Tunisia and Egypt is whether they will allow themselves to be held accountable. And that is what is needed in that part of the world and I think that’s what the protestors came out to do.  They wanted justice as well as bread.

Narrator

One year on, the Tunisian and Egyptian democratic models are at last taking shape. Serious challenges lie ahead and major political differences remain. But here in Tunis, the same people who took to the streets a year ago demanding social justice and economic fairness, have put in place leaders who have promised to deliver. And once again the Tunisian people are setting the example.

Marwan Bishara

While looking for answers about the Islamist vision for the new Tunisia, we have turned to the man most suitable to answer our questions, Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi, the head of Ennahda party.  And I started by asking him what does democracy mean to him?

Rashid Ghanouchi

Democracy is when the people rule themselves by themselves, through an authority that represents them.   They should be able to constantly oversee it and overthrow it when they want. Democracy is when citizens can enjoy their personal freedom, regardless of their colour, wealth, religion and way of thinking.  It is when the state is built on basic citizenship, which means that the state does not belong to a certain family, person or party, it belongs to all its citizens.

Marwan Bishara

So then what is the difference between a democracy in an Islamic country or any other country in the world?

Rashid Ghanouchi

There is no democracy in the Arab and Islamic countries, except for a few countries like Turkey and Malaysia.  Most Arab and Islamic countries are ruled by military or family inherited regimes.  The Arab world is probably the worst, the Islamic world is a bit better because of countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, even Pakistan, does not practice the same oppression like that in the Arab world. I believe this is because the Arab world is the most sensitive spot for international politics because of its significant geo-political location, its natural resources and because of the existence of Israel.  The pressure on the Arab world is the greatest.  Some orientalists attribute the lack of democracy in the Arab world to the presence of religions and faith.  But it turned out that the Arabs are not less careful about their freedom than others. The world now is about to speak Arabic.  

Marwan Bishara

You mentioned Turkey and Malaysia.  People from outside the Arab and the Muslim world also look and they see other examples, for example Sudan, Iran, other places where Islamic movements have taken power.  Where do you see at least philosophically speaking, Tunisia in the spectrum of the Islamist movements today?

Rashid Ghanouchi

Tunisia may have a unique democratic experience as the Tunisian people are the most united among other nations in the region and the Islamic world.  We don’t have sectarian or religion related problems in Tunisia, we don’t have many sects.  Democracy requires a common cultural background.  This is what made the revolution easy in Tunisia and it toppled the regime.  So, it wasn’t a coincidence for the first part of the Arab Spring to start from Tunisia.  

Marwan Bishara

You are going to have a coalition with secularist parties.  For you, what is secularism in an Islamic country?

Rashid Ghanouchi

Secularism in the West has played a very important role in liberating nations and states, knowledge and the mind.    We need to liberate religion from the state, because our states have used religion to rule the people and obtain a legitimacy that they don’t have.  All the imams are assigned by the state and the state has full control over our religion.  That is why one of the missions of the Islamic movement is to free the religion from the domination of the state.  So secularism is not important in the Arab world, because we don’t have a dominating religion institution.

Marwan Bishara

For our viewers both in the Muslim world and out there in the world in general, how do you consult the idea of the Sharia as the base or one of the bases of legislation in an Islamic country?

Rashid Ghanouchi

There is no contradiction between Sharia law and democracy.  We must understand that Sharia law is not represented by a specific institution that exclusively speaks on behalf of the religion.  Religion is like the society, it interacts with its scholars and intellectuals to apply its rules in various fields of economy, education, politics and others.  There isn’t a specific institution to exclusively answer these questions, but the whole society crystallises the image of religion through interaction.  That is why religion can have a specific image in Iran, but a different one in Saudi Arabia and a different one in Tunisia.  

Marwan Bishara

What would by your opening line when it says Sharia is… continue the line for me, in the constitution...

Rashid Ghanouchi

Sharia is justice.

Marwan Bishara

And its role in the state is what?

Rashid Ghanouchi

Sharia plays the role of the source of values.  It is not a set of exact rules, but it directs us to brotherhood, justice, freedom, equality and humanity.  

Marwan Bishara

So do you still think that generally speaking, so called Islam is the solution for Tunis or now you’re saying that a state with civic values is the future for Tunis?

Rashid Ghanouchi

These two matters are not contradictory. The Islamic system is a civic system; it is not ruled by a church. It follows human scholarly guidance.  

Marwan Bishara

There have been of course a lot of worry within Tunisia and outside Tunisia about the future role, the future status of women.  How do you see then that question?

Rashid Ghanouchi

In Tunisia the Tunisian woman is proud of what she has achieved for her rights.  Family law in Tunisia, a law that was legislated during the independence, but it started way before then. As a result we have stressed that the Islamic movement doesn’t have a problem in accepting such legislations and considering them to be gain, which we should preserve.  Most of our voters were women who were convinced that their right will be preserved and honoured.  We didn’t do it to buy the people’s vote but to respond to women’s calls that our policies should be identical to religion and as a result, we have adopted it.

Marwan Bishara

So Muslim women in Tunisia and outside Tunisia have the right to interpret their Islamism, their individuality as they wish in a Tunisian state?

Rashid Ghanouchi

Yes there is no guardianship on women, nor on men from anyone, because religion first and foremost is a personal belief. Any religious demeanour that isn’t based on a personal belief is considered to be insignificant and hypocritical.  Hypocrisy is one of the worst traits and forbidden in Islam, thus we’ve repeatedly stressed that the state has no right to be involved in what people eat, drink, wear, and believe.  This is a matter for the people.

Marwan Bishara

Ghannouchi I’m sure you’ve heard this many times already, there are of course the criticism that one, that this is all temporary, that once you really get hold in power that this is going to be sidelined. And the second is that this is the enlightened Rashid Ghannouchi but not necessarily the movement.

Rashid Ghanouchi

These questions are what I consider to be the final attempt to target us, after we’ve proved to be successful.  After launching our programme, which no-one could oppose! In the first attempt we were accused of having double standard in our approach in the form of inconsistency to what we say to people.  For example, what we say to Al Jazeera English, the first from what we say to Al Jazeera Arabic, both attempts are incorrect.  

Marwan Bishara

What are the assurances that this is not the case?

Rashid Ghanouchi

It is untrue, because we live in a connected global village and news travels really fast and what we say in one language is concurrently translated to many languages in the era of social media, for example Facebook and monitoring the media. Let’s assume we tell women a lie for example that we will preserve their rights as they are today, and win their votes.  A year from now there will be a new election, who’s going to believe us? The people have lived through revolution and they are not afraid any more.  

Marwan Bishara

So Islamism for you equals social democracy of some sort?

Rashid Ghanouchi

You can say so.

Marwan Bishara

How do you explain that the revolution happened only in the Arab world?

Rashid Ghanouchi

Because the Arab world is one of the only regions that has been left behind in terms of changes and democracy, therefore what usually happens when old remedies fail to cure a disease is we resort to surgical treatment.  People have had enough of trying to change these regimes, trying to change them peacefully and violently.  Both attempts failed, so they were left with no choice but to rebel, to wake up from these nightmares.

Marwan Bishara

Do you think the revolutionaries, the new democracies in the Arab world, do you think they will be more united because of the popular support or less united?

Rashid Ghanouchi

These revolutions will eventually lead to the unification of the Arab world, an objective the current regime failed to accomplish.  The process of unification starts from the bottom up, as opposed to top down, where leaders cared about nothing but their crowns and thrones.  The people have now regained power, therefore by a default, they are united.  The people of Libya don’t feel there are significant differences between them and the Tunisians, or Egyptians for that matter.  And consequently this will lead to the unification of the Arab world within a short period of time.

Marwan Bishara

And for a people’s perspective about the future of the country, I sat down with two generations of Tunisians, Leila and Ahmed.

Marwan Bishara

So Leila, when Ennahda known to be a conservative more or less Islamist party presents itself as a democratic party ready to govern with others in a civic democratic state, do you accept that?

Leila Hejaiej - professor, University of Tunis

I accept that they made promises.   Though these points they are giving is kind of acceptable.  But my only problem with Ennahda is that using the sacred to get the vote; that is the only problem I have is that you can’t compete with the sacred. You know when you talk about god, and unfortunately a lot of people for them, Ennahda equal religion equal god.  How can you compete? How can the other parties compete with that?

Marwan Bishara

But do you accept Rachid Ghannouchi’s discourse that god give it to the people to decide how to interpret his words?

Leila Hejaiej

Well we have to fight for that. He has to respect his commitments.  Because now the street, the people, the population, we’re going to all fight for our rights and especially women.

Marwan Bishara

They’re going to keep an eye on Ennahda.

Leila Hejaiej

Oh yeah we’re keeping an eye on them.  The only problem is that there is sometimes a difference between what they say and what they do.

Marwan Bishara

So you wouldn’t probe them on the question of women and their representation of women in the party?

Leila Hejaiej

Oh yeah, oh yeah definitely.

Marwan Bishara

And why it’s so low.

Leila Hejaiej

I would have liked them to react more to what’s going on with the Salafists for instance nowadays at university in the street, there is violence in the street unfortunately against women, against journalists, against art, artists.

Marwan Bishara

You mean attacks against them?

Leila Hejaiej

I would like him and his party to make open condemnation of this.

Marwan Bishara

Ahmed do you think the new government or governing arrangement between the three leading parties, do you think that will allow some checks and balances and will allow them to keep an eye on one another and perhaps create something that is consensual for Tunisia?

Ahmed Ounaies - former foreign affairs minister

I believe so, yes. It is the reality of our last months and last weeks you know policy. But they do not have the right method.  

Marwan Bishara

Which is what?

Ahmed Ounaies

Up to now in many aspects, they just speak.

Marwan Bishara

Yes.

Ahmed Ounaies

Everyone according to his convictions without any common assessment, that’s the weakness of this team.

Marwan Bishara

They’re asking people for time, they think after 20-some years of dictatorship the situation is so bad that there are going to be no miracle solutions.  How long do you think they should be given?

Ahmed Ounaies

They are not right first to seek more time. They are not right to do so.

Leila Hejaiej

The people are fed up, yes.

Ahmed Ounaies

They have been already late to clarify their real policy.

Leila Hejaiej

Exactly.

Ahmed Ounaies

They did not react the right way as ruling team, with the provocations and negative situations which have occurred weeks before they’re taking over.

Marwan Bishara

You’re talking about their plans.

Ahmed Ounaies

Everything, their plans…

Leila Hejaiej

The promises they made.

Marwan Bishara

But do you think they will be able to create jobs as quickly as people expect them to?

Leila Hejaiej

I doubt it, I doubt it, there are 700,000 jobless in Tunisia.  I don’t think they will be able to resolve all the problems in one year.  But the problem is that they gave promises to these young people and now they just expect results now.

Marwan Bishara

And that’s a major challenge for them.

Leila Hejaiej

It is, it’s a big challenge.

Marwan Bishara

What about…

Leila Hejaiej

But they have to remember also that they are temporary and we voted for these people on a temporary basis, which means…

Marwan Bishara

They are voted in, they could be voted out.

Leila Hejaiej

Exactly.  Which means a year, a year and a half maximum.  I don’t think that the Tunisian would allow them to stay more than that.

Marwan Bishara

No more?

Leila Hejaiej

No more. No more.

Marwan Bishara

Do you think reconciliation with the security forces after all that happened in the past, do you think that is possible? Is that something that we’re going to see going forward? Because certainly the President has emphasised that this needs to happen.

Ahmed Ounaies

They have missed a long time to try the reconciliation way.  And they have already taken many decisions antagonising parts of the security people.  The issue is not as easy as that.  Reconciliation will prevail, but now after one year of rather bad transition that seems to be quite difficult.

Marwan Bishara

After one year of bad transition?

Ahmed Ounaies

Bad transition yes.

Marwan Bishara

So you think … there is going to be new laws? Because my impression is it’s not the security forces that needs the guarantees, it’s the people that need guarantees from the security forces and the government.

Ahmed Ounaies

The government should make it quite clear what concept we have of the Tunisian society. And this concept is not clear right now.

Marwan Bishara

But Ahmed you just told me earlier it has to be a lawful society and hence…

Ahmed Ounaies

Yes.

Marwan Bishara

…security forces have to act within the law.

Ahmed Ounaies

Yes of course.

Leila Hejaiej

Yes.

Marwan Bishara

And that’s what the Tunisian people want, I suspect.

Ahmed Ounaies

Yes of course.

Marwan Bishara

And that is what had not happened in the past.

Ahmed Ounaies

With Ben Ali yes.

Marwan Bishara

Yes.

Ahmed Ounaies

That did not happen of course.

Marwan Bishara

And hence to open a new way forward the security forces will have to come under the control and the dictates of the law.

Ahmed Ounaies

Yes, yes. But the problem is not for the security forces to obey you know the law that is quite obvious. But what law?  What concept of society?

Marwan Bishara

Here we go. It seems that the guarantor of a lawful society, a civic society, a democratised society, is a constitution.

Leila Hejaiej

Yes.

Marwan Bishara

Are you hopeful; are you optimistic about those parties coming together and agreeing on a consensual constitution to move Tunis forward?

Leila Hejaiej

Well from what they are saying, they are saying that as far as women, I mean in my case, I am just afraid for my rights. And what they say is one thing, we will see. But the promises they made that they will not touch the women’s code.

Marwan Bishara

Yes.
Leila Hejaiej

The freedom, the individual freedom, the freedom of press, freedom of speech, so I think they might come to a consensus on this.

Marwan Bishara

I guess we do have a guarantee that Ennahda is only 40 per cent of the vote.

Leila Hejaiej

Yes.

Marwan Bishara

And hence they need the other parties, and the other parties I guess…

Leila Hejaiej

Exactly, yes.

Marwan Bishara

…emphasise that. So I think the consensuality probably looks good for Tunisia.

Leila Hejaiej

It is, yes.

Marwan Bishara

That they’re all to come on board.

Leila Hejaiej

And the people are there, that’s one thing that this government and the government that’s coming in the future has to keep in mind, the people are there, the wall of fear is completely destroyed. I think if they keep their promises we will you know congratulate them for that. If they don’t, the youth is here, women are here, the civic society is here, associations are here, that is one thing that happened this year. The number of associations, the civic society…

Marwan Bishara

Multiplied?

Leila Hejaiej

…yes.   So I think that we are here to guarantee a good constitution that respects women and respects all the freedoms.

Marwan Bishara

Leila, Ahmed on this very, very optimistic and positive note we’re going to have to end, thank you so much for joining us.

Leila Hejaiej

Whell thank you.

Marwan Bishara

In the midst of all the optimism, a certain degree of pessimism is creeping in among Tunisians and Arabs alike.  This optimist state of mind if you will, is nothing new.  For long the Arabs have thought that good news are pregnant with bad ones and successes carry with them the seeds of failure.  In that way, the revolutions might have succeeded to break with dictatorships, but the burdens of the past continue to haunt their future.  So as Tunisians bravely try to chart a new way forward, it’s incumbent upon their leaders not only to manage their expectations, but to meet them as well, in order to break the cycle of pessimism.  And that’s the way it goes, until next time.


    

Source:
Al Jazeera
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