Six months after the constituent assembly elections, not a single line of the new constitution that the assembly members were tasked to write has been written. Instead, these officials are churning out distractions, the latest of which is this issue regarding the privatization of the public television channel. Who is behind this distraction? Ameur Laarayedh, the Ennahda-elect, preceded by the (non-provisional) president, Rachid Ghannouchi. This is the same Rachid Ghannouchi who met with owners of media firms a few days ago to tell us that we need to think together about the future of the country, and that it is necessary that we understand and communicate with each other.
The supposedly peaceful sit-ins in front of the public television station and the [Doustourna] conferences of Youssef Seddik, Olfa Youssef and Jawhar Ben Mbarek have nearly turned into a nightmare. Post-revolutionary Tunisia is on the verge of a drama, of a civil war.
Despite Ennahda’s defense from accusations of causing these escalations, sit-ins and provocation, its words are no longer credible. As a ruling party, it seldom—and often did not—denounce the resulting violence and current wave of assaults. Its ministers of Interior and Justice have hardly reacted to end the provocative television sit-in.
The Ennahda-elects are the ones who proposed to cut off hands and feet. They are the ones who proposed to privatize television. They are the ones who admitted (in the middle of the assembly!) to entering the headquarters of the television station to interfere in the editorial line of the public channel and to meddle in its affairs! The Ennahda-elects are the ones who called for the death of Beiji Caid El-Sibsi, a prominent lawyer and politician.
As if Ennahda was not enough, the current tenant of the Palace of Carthage is lighting other fires. Once again, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki dared to criticize his fellow countrymen in a foreign media outlet. After Mauritania, it was in Qatar that the president allowed himself to attack the opposition and the media. Does this represent a decent attitude on the part of a president who wants to calm his country and, in theory, is the president of all Tunisians?
Invited to the public channel on April 23, his advisor Samir Ben Amor complained that the public television station only broadcasts the recordings it receives from the presidency! So blinded by his current power, Mr. Ben Amor is no longer measuring the severity of his remarks.
In no democracy does the president send such recordings to a TV channel! In no democracy do public stations broadcast the ordinary activities of the Heads of State and Government. If Marzouki and Amor watch the BBC, RAI and France 2 news, they will come to realize that the media stopped these practices decades ago. If the presidency (or the Government of the Republic) wants its significant activities to be disseminated, then all they have to do is open their doors to the media, which will record and disseminate what they want. In a democracy, the media (be it public or private) is neither a sound box for the regime, nor a propaganda arm. The Tunisian media has acted as such for too long, and they had had enough on a certain January 14, 2011.
In theory, the state embodies the law and the power. In theory, the ruling party embodies common sense and owes it to itself to take higher ground.
However, if the government allows for provocation—and provokes on its own—what should we expect from the rest of the political, social and media landscape?
Tunisia is in crisis, and it needs all components to come together. It needs dialog, as well as leaders who can embody the prestige of the state. It needs leaders who can stand above the trivial issues and take care of the country’s essential problems.
A president busy lashing out at his political opponents (including politicians from his own party!), does not reflect the image of the statesman that Tunisia needs. A presidential adviser who is only worried about giving his leader a nice image in the media cannot be deemed brilliant and capable of guiding the president in the right direction.
The officials of the ruling party who allow themselves to make both unnecessary and unproductive provocation give the image that they are incapable of responding to criticism with concrete action.
The opposition’s role is to provoke, whereas the media’s role is to criticize the 1 percent of things that are not going according to plan in the country. That the government is being unfairly represented by the media goes without saying. However this issue is secondary to the supreme interest of Tunisia, which is establishing a strong democracy. This can never materialize in the absence of a free media and a firm opposition.
By attacking both sides, the current government is correct in thinking that it is strengthening its position vis-à-vis its electorate, which is still blinded by its victory.
But the authority is unaware that it is simultaneously undermining the fledgling democracy. Letting the media implement reforms while allowing the opposition to develop is the only guarantor of a future democracy in Tunisia, unless our leaders are big fans of theocracy.