Assessing Tunisia's Opportunities and Challenges

A Conversation with Habib Essid

Habib Essid

Head of Government, Republic of Tunisia


Habib Essid, Tunisia's head of government, joins CNN's Fareed Zakaria to discuss his perspective on the opportunities and challenges facing Tunisia nearly five years after the December 2010 revolution. Essid discusses Tunisia's unique challenges in transitioning to democracy, the country's efforts to combat the self-proclaimed Islamic State, and the Tunisian government's plans for economic and social reform.


ZAKARIA: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us for what I think will be a fascinating, important discussion. We have with us Habib Essid, who is the head of government of Tunisia. One of the many ways in which Tunisia is unique is that its head of government is called head of government. (Laughter.) So when you refer to him and you ask a question, please do not say president or prime minister—Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, say Mr. Head of Government. (Laughter.)

And my first question will be, I’m going to talk—we’re going to have a conversation for a little while and then we’ll open it up—is on another point of uniqueness for Tunisia, which is you are generally considered to be the only success story of the Arab Spring. And there are many scholars who have written about this and journalists who have examined it. But I was wondering whether, A, you would accept the characterization of Tunisia as a success story and, B, if that’s the case, why?

ESSID: Well, I will start by answering to the second alternative and then I will go back to the first alternative. Why Tunisia is so special in this situation? You know, Tunisia has a very long history. We have 3,000 years of history. We have existed since 3,000 years. This is the first important thing.

ZAKARIA: As a country, you have existed for 3,000 years.

ESSID: As a country—as a country, yes. The second point, which is important, Tunisia is also—have the same religion. Ninety-nine percent of Tunisians are Muslim and Sunni. This is the second point.

The third point is that Tunisia, since 1956, with the independence, the father of the nation, Bourguiba, has done a lot for Tunisia. And we—he has built a state. We have institution in Tunisia. And those institution, though we have this transition, I would say—transition, through this transition, those institution(s) resisted, and they were on. We have a state. Bourguiba, with education and with health—his health policy has built a state—a permanent state that, though we had this difficult, difficult transition, we—the state, it didn’t collapse. This is the third—the third reason why Tunisia resisted to this transformation—political transformations.

The fourth and last reason we did, Tunisians, they have national unity. They feel Tunisians. We don’t have any—even those in some situation, we had some manifestation of belonging to groups or tribes, but this also is—was the work of Bourguiba, the father of nations, who consolidated a nation—consolidated nations. The Tunisians, they feel they are Tunisians. Those are, I think, the four main reason why Tunisia is a singular example in this—in these situations.

To go back, in answer to your first alternative, it is—can we consider ourselves as a success? You know, it’s hard to say that we are a success, but we are working. We did a smooth transition, and now we have institutions. And then those institutions, we have—parliament was freely elected. We have—the president also was freely elected. We have a government designated by the—by the parliament. And then we’ve started working. But we have many challenges. And so you cannot announced that you are a success, but we have a lot of work to do. We have many challenges—important challenges.

First of all, we have a security challenge, which is—which is very important, because everybody knows we have a problem of terrorism that we have to struggle and fight against terrorism in Tunisia. We have also a challenge which is social stability. It’s very important in order to be able to invest and to create jobs that you need to have social stabilities. And we are working or fighting against terrorism. We are also working—we have an agreement with the—(inaudible)—about having social stability for the next three years. But these are necessary conditions.

But the most important is that we have to go back to the economic problem, which is the most important one. We need to create jobs. We have a rate of unemployment quite—very high. It is around 15 percent, actually. But the most important aspect is that among those 15 percent, I think that 32 or 33 percent of those who have high grade—high school grade are unemployed. And we are looking for those people, mainly. So we cannot tell that we have—but we are working in order to make the case of Tunisia a success. But we have a strong lead for doing that. And I think by working hard nothing is impossible. That’s what I learned in the United States when I went to school here. (Laughs.)

ZAKARIA: So let me ask you, you actually—you provided a very interesting answer on the question of why you have managed to have relative success. You said you have national unity, which goes back a long time, you have religious homogeneity, 99 percent Sunni, and you have a strong state that was built by Bourguiba. I would have added one thing, and I want to know what you thought about this, is the army. The role of the army in Tunisia is somewhat different from the army in Egypt or Algeria, that it has not been tempted into politics in the same way. Why is that?

ESSID: This is also something which was done by Bourguiba, that—I am repeating Bourguiba because he has done a lot of our country and he is the father of our nation. And Bourguiba, when they asked him in the beginning of—(inaudible)—would you like to invest in army or invest in education? He said, I would rather invest in education than invest in army. The army doesn’t play a very important role in our country, but it’s there. And then during the revolution, the army protected the revolution. The army protected the civilians. They are playing their role in a democratic country. This is the role that we wanted to give to the army. And it was that since we’ve had our first army in 1956.

ZAKARIA: So another feature in your—in the Tunisian experience that seems interesting, I don’t know if I’d use the word unique, but usual is your Islamist party, the main one led by Mr. Ghannouchi, are much more moderate than many of the other ones in other parts of the Arab world. They have very different views on women. In fact, their spokesman—their spokesperson was a woman. They very clearly believe in democracy. They do not want to implement some kind of a strict Sharia law. First, I’d say, would you give them some credit for having this kind of moderate, pluralistic, and democratic version of political Islam? And secondly, why has that developed?

ESSID: Well, we give him some credit for that. It’s important. As a matter of fact, in my government we are four parties, political parties. And the main one is Nidaa Tunis, who has the majority in the parliament, and another who came second. And then they—and they accepted the rules of democracy, which is very—which is very important for the country, because in this transition, in this phase you have—you need to have a government with strong support in the parliament. And then they accepted to play that role. That’s why we respect their positions. And then we are doing a good job together.

ZAKARIA: And why do you think that your political Islamist parties are quite different from, say, the one in Syria, the one in—even in Egypt, which was somewhere between. I mean, there are some which are very extreme and violent, there are some that are extreme but not violent. And yours is neither extreme nor violent.

ESSID: Because they are Tunisians. (Laughter.)

ZAKARIA: I wonder, when you talk about your—you know, the path that you went through, what do you think was the—was there a critical moment where things could have gone very badly for the Tunisian revolution and it could have become more violent, more chaotic, where people could have taken over? I mean, was there—were there moment there that you worried?

ESSID: Yes, there was a moment—a very important moment in this transition. You know, when the revolution happened in—when Ben Ali was dismissed from his function and left the country, that period was a very difficult period. And we started with a first trial of government, you know? And then Mr. Ghannouchi, not Ghannouchi from Nidaa, Ghannouchi who was prime minister in 2010—formed a government. This government was rejected from the—and then, remember, we had Kasbah I, Kasbah II. And then in Kasbah II Ghannouchi resigned, and then we had to find somebody to lead the country in this very difficult, very precarious situation.

And then came Mr. Beji Caid Essebsi. And then when he came and took place, and was the head of the government at that time, the institutions weren’t there, because the parliament was dissolved and the constitution—the old constitution was also dismissed. And then we had to find a way to put everything together in order to make this smooth transition from the dictator to a democracy. And I remember, I was—I was there by that time. And then we had the first meeting—before forming the government, we had the first meeting with Mr. Beji Caid Essebsi. And he told us at that time that those who want to make politics, they have to resign immediately. And those who want to save the country can stay with me.

And there were—in that government there were, I think, seven or eight ministers, they resigned and they went their way. And he told us, our objective is to make the smooth transition to democracy. And getting a smooth transition to democracy, the condition was to have free elections—to have free elections. That was our objective. In the beginning, we had some problems. Some of the opposition wanted to make a Kasbah III because they considered Mr. Beji Caid Essebsi something who worked with the old regimes, and then he cannot be able to make the transition, to transit Tunisia from dictatorship to a democracy.

Then what our objective was, how to go from the situation that we were in to a democratic society. And the objective was to have elections—free elections. And then we decided to make an election. And our role, by the time I was with him on the same team, that I was minister of interior. And we had the very important responsibility how to go—how to make democratic elections in Tunisia. And there was, I think. And we did—it was a challenge, a very important challenge. But we succeeded to make the free election on the 23rd of October. It was the reason—one of the main important reasons for the success of the Tunisian history.

ZAKARIA: So let me ask you about another unusual aspect of Tunisia, which maybe is not quite as much good news. There are now two studies done on the jihadis who have poured into Syria, and both of them note that the single largest number come from Tunisia. You were minister of the interior. Why is it? Why are some many—

ESSID: Used to be minister of interior.

ZAKARIA: All right, used to be. No, but assuming you’ve looked into this issue of why is it that your youth are getting radicalized and why are they going to Syria.

ESSID: But I have to make a (position ?). It is important. We, myself and the president, Beji Caid Essebsi, we were in office. And then we were—we had a mission, which was do free elections and then give up our position to those who were elected.

ZAKARIA: Yeah, but it’s still happening. It’s still—

ESSID: It’s still happening, but don’t ask me about it, because in the period between end of 2011 and the beginning of 2014, I quit office and there was—there was—so many thing happen in these periods. But I wasn’t—I didn’t have any responsibility at the time, so I won’t be able to answer more.

ZAKARIA: But why is it still happening? Why is it that so many—

ESSID: Still happening? I don’t think so. Since I think the old government, who were there before us, they make a very important effort and they took measures, we are still taking them actually, in order to tackle these problems and to reduce. And they’re reduced—

ZAKARIA: I guess my question is why is it happening? If there were so many Tunisian radical jihadis, first of all, why are they—why are there so many? Two, why are they not trying to topple your government? Why are they busy trying to topple Assad’s government, you see what I’m saying? The whole thing is a little peculiar to me.

ESSID: I see. I see. Well, I’ll try to give you an answer for those two questions. Why are those jihadi—this important number of jihadi interest, that was the question. And why they go Assad and they—first of all, during the last 30 years we had many problems in Tunisia. And we didn’t do enough, I recognize, didn’t do enough in order to tackle the problem of terrorism, tackle the problem of extremism, in that. So there were—those are those people who are jihadi. They go to jihad for two main reasons.

The first one is, ideology. Some of them, they think that through jihad they can go to paradise and things like that. And they do believe in that. But the most important part of them, they’re there for economic reasons. They didn’t have jobs. Didn’t have—they couldn’t have a normal life. So they’re—and there’s a lot of lobbying out of this extremism that are looking after those people, and offering them money and activity. So those—that’s why they were endorsed and they were abducted, abducted by—these are the two main reason.

Why they went to Syria and didn’t stay in Tunisia and didn’t fight against the government of Tunisia? They think that what we were doing by that time is good. And you are not—the government wasn’t the devil. Like, they think—because they think that we did the revolutions and then the Nidaa party is recognized and all the religious parties they were recognized. So then—

ZAKARIA: So you think it’s because you allowed political Islam a place within your political system?

ESSID: Of course. Yes, yes, yes. Yes, sir.

ZAKARIA: Interesting, because the implication I’m—I know as a head of government you’re not going to go there—the Egyptian government has taken a very different attitude.

ESSID: It’s different. We are—each country is free to adopt what—but this is our position. And then Tunisia thinks that the best way to do it is just to try to work together. And then we noticed that by making them part of the political scene they’ve changed a lot.

ZAKARIA: You said—you talked about economics. Of course, one has to remember the Tunisian revolution begins because a man sets himself on fire because he was frustrated with both the inability to be a vendor, a salesman, and the fact that he was being asked for bribes and things. What do you think is the single—what is the path for Tunisia to get to a high-growth economy? Your tourism is down because of terrorism, because that that terrorist attack. Is it—is it fundamentally to revive tourism? Are there other strategies? What will get Tunisia to the place where you will be creating enough jobs that you will never have to worry about terrorism?

ESSID: I have to remind you first that we have challenges. I said at the beginning that we have a security challenge and social stability challenge. We also have an economic challenge, because we need to create jobs, and to create jobs we need to invest. Since we started in this first government in the second republic, our objective was to—how to put the economic machine in work. As you mentioned, we had those two barbaric terrorism acts in Bardo and in Sousse. Those had a very bad impact on the tourist sectors. But you have also to know that tourism is very important in Tunisia. It employs more—directly more than 400,000 people. But it represents only between 7 and 11 percent, it depends on the season, in the GDP of Tunisia. So it’s important, but it’s not the main source of wealth in our country.

So our objective is to prepare the next step. And the next step has to be prepared by preparing a five-years plan—five-year plan. We start on 2016 and go to 2020. We prepared the basic framework for this—for this strategy for the next five-year strategy. And it’s based on two sub-objectives, I would say. The first—the first one is how to—is based on implementing projects, mainly on the area where the revolution happened, because there’s the coastal area and the interior area of Tunisia. And there’s a big difference between what has been done in the coast and what has been in the interior part of the—of the country. So we’ll be preparing, and actually we have commissions working at the regional level, preparing projects for those 14 areas where they were, which is important.

The second part of this program is having important structural project for the country. When I talk about important structural project for the country, I mean freeways, railroad, harbors, airport, and all kind of project that will implemented directly by the—by the state. The second part of this program, which is the most important part, I think, is reforms. You have—you need to have important reforms in our country, and in many domains. I will mention some of those domains. The first one is at the financial level. We have a very important reform which we are—we are ending, actually.

We started and then it’s—we have also to reform our investment court. We need to have an investment court in order to give many incentive for the local investors and for the foreign investors. This is a very important reform that we have to implement. We started and probably by the end of this year we’ll have a new investment court in order to give more incentives to the—to the businessman, local businessman, or foreigner to come and invest in Tunisia. We also have a very important fiscal reform that we have to undertake. The fiscal system that we have is quite old and then it has to be reformed. There has to be more equity between the taxpayer. And this is a very important reform that we have to undertake.

We also have a very important reform to reform the administration. We have an administration which is, like somebody was telling me when I had a meeting before coming here, it’s frozen. It has to be shaked up. And we need to implement a deep, important reform in the administration, because you have a nice court of investment and then you have a good social stability. But if you have an administration which is—doesn’t react rapidly, which is—it’s very important to make the reform of our administration.

ZAKARIA: Do you have the political power and capital to actually implement all these reforms? That’s a very large reform agenda.

ESSID: Yeah, this is—this is our agenda, our agenda for the next five years is our agenda. We need—we need those reforms. You cannot move on—you need to have those reforms. Of course, those reforms aren’t easy to implement. You need to have political support. You need to have social support. And all those reforms, they have to be negotiated. We won’t impose them. The have to be negotiated with the labor unions, with the entrepreneur, with everybody.

And we have an example, that we started, is the age of retirement, all the social problems that have with the age. Actually, the age of retirement in Tunisia is 60 years. At 60 years, everybody can work. I am 67, so I’m not—I’m still working. (Laughter.) So it’s necessary to review these. And we made an agreement with the labor unions. And then probably we have a bill in the parliament, which bill increased the age of retirement from 60 to 65. And this will have a very important impact on the stability, on the equilibrium for the retirement agency, which has a very important deficit, actually, and then you have to be—it has to be reduced.

This is our problem for the next five years: implementing the important projects in those regions, implementing a national structural project, and then doing in parallel important reform. We need to have those reforms.

ZAKARIA: So let me open it up to the audience. Just a few points. One, identify yourself. Two, please make sure the question is in fact a question not a speech. If it is a speech, I will not allow it to proceed. And finally, also, please don’t speak in French or Arabic. I didn’t know that anyone would be tempted to, but I was told despite the fact that the head of government can in fact speak both those languages, we are streaming this to a lot of people and, this being America, none of us can speak any of those languages. (Laughter.)

So, ma’am.

Q: Thank you very much. I’m Barbara Slavin from the Atlantic Council in Washington. Pleasure to see you, sir.

You mentioned a number of reforms but you didn’t talk about security sector reform. And there’s a lot of criticism that your security services are still torturing people and unlawfully detaining people. And in addition, your president has put forward a proposal that corrupt businessmen can essentially pay their way out of their crimes by admitting what they did under the old government and giving some money back. And this has caused a lot of protests in your country. So if you could address those two issues, security sector reform and this question of allowing corrupt businessmen to continue. Thank you.


ESSID: For the first question, security sector, this is one of our priorities. Probably I didn’t mention it because the reform of security sector, we started it since 2011. You know, I was minister of interior by that time. And then we had the problem, very important, because when—after the revolution everybody blamed the security sector. They were supporting the dictator, and our objective how to reform those security people from serving the dictator to serving the citizens and the people. And then we’ve started since that time and it’s still continuing actually, a very important transformation. It’s not an easy job, I know—I have the experience—but it’s going on.

We have some cases like you’ve mentioned of torture or something like this, and this happens everywhere in the world. And then what is important for us—and I have to emphasize on that—that those who’s doing these kind of actions, they’re followed. We transmit them to justice and we look after them in justice. This is the difference between what was happening before and what’s happening now. This is a point I wanted to make.

The second point for the—

Q: It’s the national—

ESSID: Excuse me?

Q: It’s the national reconciliation law.

ZAKARIA: About the business—

ESSID: Yes, yes, yes, yeah. Yeah. I’ve got your point. Don’t worry. (Chuckles.)

So the second point is that—the reconciliation project of law. I would like first to mention, to make a point: What happened in Tunisia and the transitions that we’ve made is irreversible. Nobody—because we have institutions, nobody can go back. And if he wants to go back, the people won’t let him. This is something that everybody has to know, that what happened in Tunisia is irreversible, because some people think that we are going back to old practices and then so on and so on. This is not the case. What happened in Tunisia is a smooth transition to democracy and we won’t go back.

And even though—if we want to go back, people won’t let us, the people won’t let us because we have institutions, we have democracy. And, you know, you have information that they torture because everything is there. It’s—

ZAKARIA: Public.

ESSID: —public. So public and everybody can go and see, which is—I think which is a positive point.

Now, going back to the answer to your second question about the law of reconciliations, we have institutions. And representatives of the public has the possibility to propose bills for the—for the parliament. This is the constitution. And then we have institutions, and if the parliament—the parliament can refuse the proposal of the president of the republic. It is not obliged to accept it, because people have to—they have to remember that we are not on the—on the old system where the president dictates something and the parliament—we have many, many projects of bills that we presented as a government to the parliament and they were rejected.

But this is—this is democracy. You have to accept that. So there is—how we you say that in French?—the garatfu (ph).

ZAKARIA: Safeguards.

ESSID: Safeguards. Safeguards—institutional safeguards. And the institutional safeguard is democracy. Democracy wants that you do whatever—if there is a policeman who is torturing and does—and as I mentioned before, it happens everywhere in the world. But the difference between: They’re accepting the torture and now we’re not accepting torture. Somebody who is torturing a citizen has to be transmitted to the—to the courts and he’d be judged.

Last point about those who were indicted for—

ZAKARIA: Corruption.

ESSID: —for corruption, those who’ve stolen, the people at that time, has to regard to the law. And then all the corrupted people, they have to—they have to go to the court and to be—and to be judged. These are some situations like, for instance, those who have money abroad. And in the old regime you shouldn’t have any—you cannot have any money abroad. And they want to bring that back to Tunisia in order to use them to invest and to do things like this. These are proposals.

The other proposal is how the old people who were working in the administration, they have received order to implement something. And they respected this order. We’re looking after them, actually. And the administration is frozen actually, I was mentioning before, because the previous administration they say, no, no, we won’t do anything. We’ll accept orders next time would be—they will look after us, and so on and so on.

ZAKARIA: Let’s get some more questions in here. Sir?

Q: Greg Charney with Charney Research.

ESSID: I’m sorry?

Q: Greg Charney of Charney research.

A few years ago we did focus groups in Egypt and Morocco, which found Tunisia to be—Tunisia’s economy to be the envy of your neighbors. But I think that you didn’t quite answer Fareed’s question about what, besides tourism, Tunisia can offer the world. I’ve always thought that perhaps the North African countries, and especially Tunisia, with a lot of educated labor, might be a natural back office with information functions and IT functions for the French-speaking world much like India is for the English-speaking world. But I’m wondering, really, what is it that, besides tourism and bronze bodies, Tunisia can offer the world?

ESSID: Well, besides—well, there’s reason I didn’t answer to that question, but tourism is in a situation where you need to do a lot for the recovery of the sector because the sector is in a very bad, bad situation. We have a special program for recovery of the—of the sector, helping mainly businessmen in hotels how to maintain their employees, which is very—which is very—we have a program of helping them, and helping also them how to reschedule their loans with banks. There are many, many—and then trying to—because, you know, the tourism in Tunisia started with bonare (ph) activities, and we did change since then.

This is an occasion for the sector to revise itself and then to have a deep study in order to transform the tourism. There are other activities there we can do because it’s mainly—I would say 90 percent of tourism in Tunisia is bonare (ph) tourists. We have to change this strategy. And then we are profiting of the situation in order to do this important reform, deep important reform in the tourism sectors.

The second part of your question, what can Tunisia offer for the world, we have—as you’ve mentioned, India is serving—is doing an important activity for the part of the world mainly in Bangalore and other IT activities. We do have the same possibilities because we have skilled people and then we are working on having in Tunis what Bangalore has in the—in India. And then we have very, very important program within this five-year plan. I don’t have enough time, you know, to go to the details, but we are also having these possibilities. And then we have trained people that could serve, like India.

ZAKARIA: OK, let’s—so in the back there.

Q: Earl Carr representing Momentum Advisors.

There’s been a lot of controversy regarding the role of Chinese investment in Africa, in particular Northern Africa. Given that last year, 2014, represented the 50th anniversary between Tunisia and the Republic of China, how do you perceive the Chinese investment in Tunisia? There’s been a lot of concern that often these infrastructure projects the Chinese bring their own workers; they don’t really engage with the people in the country. Do you feel that the Chinese investment is helping the local people of Tunisia?

ESSID: Well, we do have a very long experience with Chinese investments. We have an enterprise, CWE, who invested in Tunisia, especially in hydroelectric. And we also have other important project with the Chinese. But as you mentioned, Tunisia didn’t accept that because we have unemployment and then we cannot afford ourselves to bring people from China to work in Tunisia.

But the experience we’ve had with the Chinese was a good one. And then we have to develop our relationship with China, and they are willing. We received many important high-ranked (responsible ?) from China, and we are working together in order to increase the cooperation between our two countries.


Q: Thank you. Sarah Yerkes from the Brookings Institution.

When President Essebsi visited Washington and met with President Obama, President Obama made a very public commitment to support Tunisia. I’m wondering, first of all, how can the U.S. demonstrate that commitment and how should we be prioritizing our assistance to Tunisia going forward?

ESSID: Thank you. As a matter of fact, when President Essebsi visited the United States we had—he had the very important discussion with President Obama. And they set up a program of cooperation between the two countries. We are implementing those agreements between the two countries.

And I had a meeting with the minister of commerce yesterday, and then we went—we made the follow up of those agreements made between the two presidents and things are looking quite well. There’s some small problems but those are day-to-day problems that will be something by discussing with the American authorities.


Q: Herbert Levin, Council member.

A few years ago my late wife and I booked a tour to Libya. Colonel Gadhafi’s Green Book said, we welcome visitors. But as we are about to land, he changed his mind—no Americans—so they took us to Tunisia. We had a wonderful trip. The Tunisians welcomed us and they said, how did you come to come here? We said, we’re supposed to go to Libya. They said, why did you want to go to Libya? Those people are crazy over there. They are really nuts. You shouldn’t have even thought of going there. (Laughter.) So my question is, what to Tunisians expect the future of Libya is? (Laughter.)

ESSID: You know, Libyans are our neighbors—(laughter)—and the Prophet Muhammad said you should take care of your neighbors. (Laughter.)

Actually what’s happening in Libya is really bad. And everybody, all over the world, we have to be together in order to find a solution for the situation in Libya. And the solution won’t be a military solution. And then actually what’s happening in Libya is the consequence of, I would say, an improvisation dealing with difficult problems like Iraq, like Libya. And then we go and make a military strike, then we go out and let the situation be as it is actually.

This is—the solution should come from the Libyans. The solution will be Libyan-Libyan solutions. All of the world has to help protect, and unfortunately it’s not the case. And then the Libyans, they should work together in order to find solutions. It is important for Tunisia that Libya will be stabilized politically, because many of the security problems that you are dealing with, actually they come from there. And the two terrorist acts that happened in Tunisia, in Bardo and Sousse, they were two Tunisians who were trained in Libya and came back to make their actions.

So it is very important to have a final solution in Libya. Tunisia is doing his best in order to participate to find a political solution for Libya. We have some hope, but it is important that all the world has to—we have to work together in order to stabilize the situation in Libya because it is important for Tunisia from the point of view of security and from the point of the economic, because we have important economic relationship with Libya.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask a final question. When you watch the rise of ISIS, and you watch some of the activity of al-Qaida as it tries to branch out into more and more countries in—particularly in Africa, do you think that this is a trend of jihadi activity, Islamic terrorism, call it what you will? Is this trend on the rise or is it on the decline?

ESSID: Well, I think the numbers are here, you see. It’s on the rise. But the summit we had yesterday with President Obama, the objective is to stop this trend. It cannot go further. And this is also the responsibility of the whole world. And Tunisia accepted to be part of this coalition because we believe that we need to combat this increasing trend.

This is the responsibility of the whole world, the responsibility of the United Nations and the responsibility of every other country, because terrorism doesn’t have any frontier, any boundary, and then it goes and hit anywhere in the world. And everybody has to feel that he’s concerned about this problem, and he has to work with the international community in order to fight this—to defend democracy in the whole world, because this concerns everybody. But for these problems we have to be together in order to be able to defeat the ISIS all over the world.

ZAKARIA: Mr. Head of Government, thank you very much.

ESSID: Thank you, sir. (Applause.)


This is an uncorrected transcript.

"Ninety-nine percent of Tunisians are Muslim and Sunni."
- Habib Essid
"We need to create jobs. We have a rate of unemployment quite—very high. It is around 15 percent, actually. But the most important aspect is that among those 15 percent, I think that 32 or 33 percent of those who have high grade—high school grade are unemployed."
- Habib Essid
"This is our problem for the next five years: implementing the important projects in those regions, implementing a national structural project, and then doing in parallel important reform. We need to have those reforms."
- Habib Essid
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A Conversation With Giorgi Margvelashvili

Giorgi Margvelashvili discusses tensions with Russia as well as Georgia’s relationship with NATO, the European Union, and the United States.

Presider: Thomas Graham
Speaker: Giorgi Margvelashvili

Toward a New Afghanistan

Abdullah Abdullah discusses issues facing the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Presider: Robert E. Rubin
Speaker: Abdullah Abdullah

Assessing Iraq's Regional Foreign and Security Policy

Ibrahim al-Alshaiqer al-Jaafari discusses Iraqi regional relations and global affairs.

Speaker: Ibrahim al-Alshaiqer Al-Jaafari

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