On First Anniversary of the Revolution, Tunisian Politicians Speak Out

Article Summary
One year since Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was forced from power in Tunisia, many economic and social issues remain unsolved. This article presents three interviews with Tunisian politicians in the ruling coalition and the opposition, presenting their views on the progress of Tunisian democracy over the past 12 months.

Yesterday, Tunisians celebrated the first anniversary of the fall of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. [His successful overthrow] inspired the peoples of other Arab countries to [emulate the Tunisian] protest movement with the hope of achieving the same results. A year after the escape of Ben Ali [to Saudi Arabia], the Tunisians have managed to elect a Constituent Assembly and a legitimate president for their country. However, they are entering this new era with caution.

Doubts and Fragile Balances One Year After the Revolution;
The Islamists Put to Test on Real Authority

A year after the revolt in the Tunisian streets brought down the regime of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years of near-absolute rule, [the new government] remains ambiguous on certain political and economic policies. The new [status quo] has led to the emergence of pragmatic alliances, but these are liable to break up at any moment due to the the challenges facing Tunisia's new political model.

The new Tunisian political map composes three forces that essentially have nothing in common and do not converge politically or ideologically. [However, the current context has] forced them to coexist and adopt political realism.

The first important force is the Ennahda Party - itself composed of various internal currents - which won 89 seats in parliament and more than 5.1 million votes. [The party] is currently in the midst of an internal conflict.  Then, at the [far] left, there is the Congress for the Republic party, which won 29 seats but less than 350,000 votes. It is primarily represented through incumbent President Moncef al-Marzouki, who spent his political history as an opponent of the regime. Finally, there is the Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties coalition, which won 20 seats and almost 249,000 votes. It’s orientations remain on the right and are reinforced by Mustapha Bin-Jaafar, the party’s key symbolic leader and the assembly President. These [three] forces constitute the majority, which has been entrusted with the task of managing a critical transitional period in which a difficult internal economic situation and a tense regional dynamic prevail.

Given this situation, [Prime Minister Hamadi] Al-Jabali’s coalition government - primarily made up of members from the Ennahda Party - is facing major challenges, and many are demanding that it provide both quick solutions and reassuring messages internally and abroad.  [Tunisian President] Marzouki and [Rached] al-Ghannouchi [the intellectual leader and co-founder of the Ennahda movement] face several challenges, namely the security vulnerabilities emanating from the war in Libya, a key outlet for the Tunisian economy alongside the European Union. [Also, the regime needs to] deal with the legacy, remnants and repercussions of the revolution, whose losses are estimated at nearly $2 billion - almost five percent of [Tunisian] GDP. Internal instability has negatively impacted the tourism sector, which constitutes at least 5.6 percent of the GDP. Tunisia used to attract nearly six million tourists annually.

The economic situation in Tunisia in general no longer looks favorable due to the suspension of industrial [activities] and the [public] disclosure that domestic and foreign public debts are almost equivalent to the country’s GDP output - estimated at around $39 billion.

Tunisian external debt has reached $18 billion, and domestic public debt is at almost 50 percent of GDP. Despite the cancellation of a fraction of Tunisia’s debt by Germany and France and despite the support of countries like Algeria - which contributed $100 million [to the Tunisian economic recovery] - the economic situation remains a difficult challenge. The people are growing increasingly needy, and the poor and middle classes have placed their hopes in the new regime.

Despite its claims of having “pioneered economic experience,” the old regime’s hypocritical [economic policies] are beginning to come to light. And although observers of Tunisian affairs view Marzouki as a safety valve and guarantee for the new Tunisian regime, it is still bound to come across significant land mines. Ben Ali’s legacy is still present in [governmental] administrations and institutions. The networks set up by Ben Ali over his 23 years of rule cannot be dismantled in a short period of time, especially as several of his cadres are being recycled and reintegrated into other political formations. Ennahda itself will face challenges from the different orientations within its base, especially the growing Salafist movement in the streets of Tunisia. [The Salafist] have begun their contact with certain political forces, who see [the Salafist political] positioning as a pressure card and an attempt to profit from the gains of the new revolution.

The Leader of the Tunisian Ennahda Movement, Sadiq Shourou, tells El-Khabar: The Tunisian Army Stands With the Revolution Not the Secularists; The People Have Given up an Attempted Violent Rebellion Against the Decision Taken by the Interior Minister; We Will Not Change Laws Related to Tourism and Art

In an interview with El-Khabar, the leader of the Tunisian Ennahda Movement, Sadiq Shourou, said that the Tunisian revolution was able to successfully complete the transitional phase and enter a phase of stability thanks to the army’s support to the revolution and the consensus reached by the various currents that brought about [this revolution]. Shourou stressed that the real revolution has a larger goal, which is to reformulate the Tunisian society in all areas - political, economic, cultural, and social.

El-Khabar  What has the Tunisian revolution achieved one year after Ben Ali [fled the country]?

Shourou  The Tunisian revolution has many far-reaching goals and it [definitely] cannot achieve all of them in one year. Given that, some of its goals have indeed been achieved. [This is because] a real revolution begins after the fall of a tyrant, as this allows for a change in the political, cultural, and economic conditions [of the country]. We have already moved one step forward toward political change. We held elections that produced a Constituent Assembly. A president of the republic has been elected, as has a coalition government whose task is now to draft a new constitution for the country. One year from now, this will be complete.

El-Khabar  Which out of its objectives has the Tunisian revolution yet to achieve?

Shourou  [The revolution] cannot achieve everything in one year. A real revolution implies the reformulation of a society in all respects. For example, unemployment and development in the Southwest and the South will take time. The same applies to reforms of the security, judicial, cultural and educational systems. Reaping the benefits [of such efforts] also takes time.

El-Khabar  What are the threats facing the revolution. For example, could the security and military forces [launch] a coup against the revolution?

Shourou  The Tunisian army has played a major role in protecting the revolution and is [in no way] a threat to the revolution. The major threat originates with the remnants of the former regime - whether they [government] officeholders or businessmen. These individuals can slow the progress of the revolution but cannot foil it.

El-Khabar  Are there some who believe that the secular and leftist camps are waiting for the Islamists to commit mistakes during their time in power so they would turn against the revolution?

Shourou  Popular action will guarantee that any attempt to thwart the revolution would be blocked. The leftists and secularists seek to place obstacles before the government. However, reality has proven that these currents will be unable to achieve their goals. The people stood by the government when elements within the security apparatus rebelled against the interior minister's decision to change the director of security the security agency. [In response], the people demonstrated last Wednesday [January 11] and stonewalled the rebellion, thus voicing their support for the interior minister’s decision and asserting their support of the government. [As for] the army, it stands with the revolution and does not support the secularists.

El-Khabar  Although the Tunisian revolution has spoken much about freedom, disagreements remain about its nature - especially between the Salafists and secularists. How does the government deal with these differences in opinion?

Shourou The Tunisian people is made up of individuals who [adhere to different political opinions], and we assume that the government will not interfere in matters of personal rights and freedoms and that it has no intention to impose strict laws. Issues relating to freedoms [must be tackled] through dialogue and with a respect for differing opinions. For instance, we will not change the laws relating to tourism and art. This matter will be left for the society [to decide upon], even if Ennahda [is entitled to try] and draw people to its vision.

El-Khabar  Why was the Tunisian Revolution so much more successful than the ones in Egypt and Libya?

Shourou  The revolution in Tunisia has the support of the army, and the latter was keen to hold dialogue between the various [ideological camps] after the fall of the regime. Tunisia was able to emerge from the transitional period into one of stability On the other hand, Libya witnessed an armed confrontation and thus entered into chaos. As for the case of the Egyptian Revolution, the army did not fully support it but rather [played a role] in directing [its course]. In Tunisia, we were able to reach a compromise, which ensured the success of the transitional period.

Algeria: Interviewed by Mustapha Dalaa

The Secretary General of the Tunisian Al-Tajdeed [Renewal] Party, Ahmad Ibrahim, tells El-Khabar: ''Our Next Battle Aimed at Establishing Democracy in Tunisia is the Drafting of the Constitution.”

In a phone interview with El-Khabar the Secretary General of the Tunisian Al-Tajdeed Party said that democracy in Tunisia is heading in the right direction a year after the end of the Ben Ali regime, despite the presence of worrying indicators. [He takes these indicators to be] the rise of Islamism and certain Islamic parties’ pursuit of limiting freedoms.

El-Khabar  What is your assessment of the first year of democratic practice in Tunisia after the toppling of the dictatorial regime?

Ibrahim  In general, we can say that Tunisia has made very positive steps in the context of its nascent democracy. We have rid ourselves of the practices of the former regime, and the establishment of a Constituent Assembly has given the Tunisian people [final] say [on national matters]. Today, we are about to complete this democratic process by building democratic civil institutions that respect individual freedoms. We believe that what is most important is to completely break with the practices of the old regime, although we still have a long way ahead of us and continue to face significant economic and social challenges. Despite the fact that frightening indicators have emerged regarding threats to freedoms, we are striving to win the battle on the Constitution, which must respect freedoms.

El-Khabar  You speak about indicators of threats to freedoms. By these, are you referring to the rise of the Islamic movement and the failure of the Democratic Modernist Bloc [PDM, a secularist Tunisian political bloc in which Al-Tajdeed is a leading member]?

Ibrahim  We do not call [the PDM’s performance in the recent elections] a failure. The democrats in Tunisia did not fail. The Islamic current benefited from the [post revolutionary] context to win the elections. This created an imbalance of power at the expense of the democrats. This does not mean that the PDM is absent at this stage. On the contrary, we are currently seeking to unite the ranks of democrats in order to agree upon a draft for the new Constitution, which we hope to obtain within a year, as planned.

Interview by Samia Belkadi from Algeria

The Secretary General of the Progressive Democratic Party, Maya Jribi, tells El-Khabar: “We Demand Greater Powers for the President Until Balance Is Achieved”

Secretary General of the Progressive Democratic Party [PDP] in Tunisia Maya Jribi said that - on its one year anniversary - the most important accomplishment of the Tunisian revolution has been the achievement of freedom. Jribi criticized how the [Tunisia’s current] “mini-constitution,” as she described it, endows the prime minister with greater authorities than it does to President [Marzouki, a secular center-leftist]. In a phone call with El-Khabar, Maya Jribi announced the merger of her party with the Afek Tunis party and the Republican Party on the occasion of the PDP’s upcoming conference on March 17-19.

Jribi said, “the January 14 revolution has brought about the freedom that will lay the grounds for democracy.” She explained that “the Tunisians have not yet achieved democracy, but they are on the right track. They have reached a point of no return in this matter.”

As for her assessment of the political situation in Tunisia after the fall of Ben Ali, the secretary general said, “the current ruling party has exhibited a tendency to attempt to dominate [the political arena] and consolidate authority.” When El-Khabar asker her who exactly she was referring to, Jribi replied, ''there is currently a conflict which aims to place all powers in the hands of the prime minister.”

She added: ''I did not say we had problems with the prime minister, simply that we have noticed a trend towards domination. This was reflected in the drafting of the ‘mini-constitution’ by the ruling majority party represented by the Ennahda Movement, the Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties and the Congress for the Republic.”  

Jribi revealed that her party “is striving for the president to be given greater powers in order to foster a balance between authorities. This issue has been under discussion for quite some time.”

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Found in: secularists, coalition government, coalition, tunisian economy, salafists, salafist movement in tunisia, salafist, sadiq shourou, republican party, rached al-ghannouchi, progressive democratic party, pdp, pdm, mustapha bin-jaafar, moncef al-marzouki, maya jribi, libyan revolution, hamadi al-jabali, first anniversary tunisian revolution, ennahda, egyptian revolution, democratic modernist bloc, democratic forum for labor and liberties coalition, constituent assembly, congress for the republic party, congress, ben ali, al-tajdeed party, ahmad ibrahim, afaq tunis
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