“I’ll be frank: we didn’t have the support that we expected from the West.”- Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki
Tunisia feels as if it is going at it alone. “Help us, and we will help you,” stated Tunisian President, Moncef Marzouki at the Atlantic Council on August 5th in Washington, DC. He listed Tunisia’s achievements: 1) passing a consensus based constitution; 2) preserving freedom of press by not shutting down any television station; and 3) setting a date for parliamentary and presidential elections this Fall. This was his response after he stated that Tunisia did not have the support that Tunisians expected from the West.
Marzouki is unsure why Tunisia was not receiving support, but speculates that it may be because of its previous Islamist party in power. Nonetheless Tunisia moved forward despite its increasing inflation rate (6% in 2013 and 5.6% in 2012) and modest 3.0% growth, according to the Institute of International Finance.
Before Marzouki became president, he was exiled from Tunisia for ten years during the Ben Ali regime for his human rights activism in Tunisia. In welcoming President Marzouki, Atlantic Council President, Fred Kemp quotes Sikor Skiradek who told him: #Tunisia will play role #Poland played in bringing down communism. (Note the subtext of a security threat perceived by the Americans in Tunisia’s context by mentioning communisim.) Marzouki has not decided if he will run for president in the November 2014 elections. He will announce at the end of September.
“We need to have an inclusive government. People must listen to each other…Arab societies are not homogenous and need to be inclusive otherwise it will lead to more divisions and chaos.” ~President Moncef Marzouki
Although Tunisia’s Jasmine revolution stemmed from concern with socio-economic injustice, the revolution has boomeranged back towards discontent. “We expected that the revolution would be a solution to the [economic] problem but now it is the cause,” admitted Marzouki. At the same time, he said that Tunisians may have been naive regarding its internal security threat posed by extremist groups. In 2013, extremist groups assassinated two political figures.
That being said, the Tunisian president defined two problems for Tunisians.
- Problem #1 is a social problem: corruption.
- Problem #2: unemployment.
- Problem #3 (Unsaid): Border security
Corruption has grown more and more because of Tunisia’s transition period; the state is always weak during transition. He explained how keeping the judiciary branch’s 200 judges independent is a key factor in stemming corruption.
At the same time, it is difficult to bring democracy to Tunisia without steady employment options. He worries that some people are regretting the revolution because they are getting poorer and poorer while remembering some sort of stability from the authoritarian days.
Unfortunately, no one amongst the audience commented on the various ways of jumpstarting employment. Rather, the focus remained on security. (Security ranked as Problem number three on Tunisia’s list in contrast to Problem number one on the American list.) Perhaps it was the best strategic opportunity for Tunisia’s president to present his ask on security–which he did very specifically: 12 Blackhawk helicopters, night vision goggles, communications devices, and security trainings.
According to Marzouki, the army is not as well equipped as the police forces–which may make sense since they are treated as one security entity–the result of a police state that is common in the Arab world.
Corruption seemed to be the fetishized question among audience members from the U.S. military and American based NGOs–as if they memorized 2011 State Department Talking Points memo on Tunisia. Furthermore, Tunisia’s corruption problem is underpinned by people not paying taxes. Marzouki says that collecting tax revenue remains a critical issue, but without the number of delinquent taxpayers, there’s no way of determining the magnitude of the problem compared to the percent that remains uncollected from businesses.