Tunisian President Marzouki on Elections, Economy, and Regional Stability

A Conversation With Mohamed Moncef Marzouki

Mohamed Moncef Marzouki

President, Republic of Tunisia

Reed Kramer

Cofounder and Chief Executive Officer, AllAfrica Global Media


Tunisian President Mohamed Moncef Marzouki joins Reed Kramer, chief executive officer of AllAfrica Global Media to discuss Tunisia's transition to democracy, the upcoming presidential election, and the region. Though Marzouki is confident about the way Tunisia has reached political consensus, he expresses concern regarding unstable neighbors and resulting security issues. A more chief concern, Marzouki says, is the economyfinding solutions for unemployment, addressing poverty, and drawing investors to Tunisia. He notes that there are over thirty candidates for the upcoming election, and expresses hope that once the election occurs, Tunisia can further address its economic and security issues.


KRAMER: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Good morning. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations session with Tunisian President Marzouki.

We all know that Tunisia has a long record of being a strategic country, one that we are watching closely as they go through a democratic transition.

You have the president's biography in your program, so I won't go over it. Just suffice it to say his career's been spent in both public health and human rights advocacy.

On the human rights side, some highlights are his role in helping form and then leading, for a while, the Tunisian League for Human Rights and also the African Network for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.

He, as of the last couple of days, is—is a declared candidate for the elections in November, and so we have a lot of topics we want to cover with him today.

I'm going to ask him to say a few words setting the stage, and then we will start with the questions, and then we will bring in your questions.

MARZOUKI: Well, good morning, and thank you for this introduction (ph).

I'd like to say that I'm always very happy to come—come—come here and to try to—to convince that you can bet on Tunisia, because even if Tunisia is a small country, Tunisia is now playing an important role in the whole region, because Tunisia could be a model that the whole Arab world is looking for.

Probably—many—many people, you know, are asking me all the time, "Why is the outcome in Tunisia so different than in Syria"? I think it's because of structural reasons, not because we are better than Syrians or more moderate than Lebanese or—but because there are some structural reasons for—for the outcome in Tunisia.

You probably know that it's—the—the transition is—is peaceful, that we are doing quite well, I mean, because we wrote this constitution (inaudible) national consensus about the constitution about what kind of state do we want, et cetera, et cetera.

You know that we—the transition period is nearly over, because the next election in two months' time will end this transition period.

Three years, that's not too long, and I'm very proud that we—we did it. This transition has been extremely dangerous, but we did it.

The country is—is—I think we have—all our problems—I'm not going to say that we have mastered our political problems, security problems and so forth, but I can—I can say that when you compare Tunisia to Libya or to Syria or to other countries, you see that this is a great difference.

Now why the outcome is so different? Why—it's—the Arab Spring—the same reason, you know—the same reason everywhere. The Arabs are no longer accepting corrupted regime, corrupted states and so forth.

So why—why the outcome is so different? Once again, because structural reason, because Tunisia is a homogeneous country. We don't have this, you know—this situation like in Iraq or Syria where you have Christian, Muslims, Shias, et cetera. Tunisia is a homogeneous country.

Tunisia is a middle-class country. Tunisia—I think we have manpower skills. We have educated population.

We're close to Europe also. We have 1 million of our citizen living in Europe.

So—and probably also because we don't—we don't have oil also. We are not...


That's—that's a very important issue also.

We have also (inaudible), you know, so not corrupted at all, not—this is why we have—we reach this consensus so easily.

I think also—we have also wise political actors. I used to talk with even my—my worst enemies, you know, during the—the most dangerous period of—you know, of discussion about the constitution and about the situation.

So because of the structural reason, Tunisia is doing quite well, and we have solved our political problems. But now we are facing a lot of challenges, other challenges, mainly security challenges, because Tunisia is not an island.

We are in a region getting more and more violent. You know that Libya is now—I'm not using the word "chaos," because I'm afraid of this word, but really, the situation is frightening.

Fortunately, we—we are backed by our Algerian brothers, so we don't have to—to work on two—two frontiers, you know. Just one is enough for us.

But you know, I'm very upset by the fact that I—there's something like (inaudible) coming from the—from the Middle East—Iraq, Syria, Egypt and then Libya—and I'm afraid that this could also be very dangerous for us for the next—this is why—we are in hurry, you know, to—to have this election so we can have a stable—stable regime, and then we can afford to—to tackle the other problems, economic problems, and economic problems and security problems are both linked.

For instance, we do know that one of the—one of the—the high rate of unemployment is one of the reason that our guys, our young people now go to Syria or go to elsewhere, because they don't—they don't see any future in Tunisia currently, because we still have this high rate of unemployment (inaudible).

So the situation is like this: We have to (inaudible)...

Politically, I think we—Tunisia is on track. Tunisia is going to be the model. I think we surely are going to build up a democratic state.

But for—but we do know that we are targeted by terrorists because those—they don't want Tunisia to be the success story. Tunisia must be part of the—the Arab chaos, if I may say so.

But because of this structural reason, terrorism is not real threat. It's—we will be annoyed by the—why—why I can say that? Because remember that last year, we had two political assassination whose objective was to stop the process, but it didn't stop it.

And I think even now, if we have another terrorist attack, it won't stop the process; we are going to go through, and we're going to see the—the political process, and Tunisia would become and will be stable and democratic state.

KRAMER: Let me just ask you a little bit more about the political process, because...

MARZOUKI: Well, the political process, we have had huge discussion about the constitution, because as you know, Tunisia is also divided society. We have secularists, we have Islamists and so—and it was not—it wasn't easy, you know, to have this constitution accepted by both sides, but we did it.

Both sides have accepted this constitution, and now we—we have the same objective. We do know now what—what kind of society we want. We do know what kind of state we want.

So you know, look what happened in—in other countries I'm not going to say. You see that you have this bipolarization between secularist and Islamist.

In Tunisia, we don't have it. In fact, we have it but not—not as—as in other countries like Egypt where it's really a rift between—between the two—two part of the society.

So now our main challenge is not—I'm—I'm going to say that our main challenge is not security, even if it's important; our main challenge is economy.

If we do not give to our young people, you know—we have about 10 percent, even more, the rate of employment—if you don't give to them, our young people hope, jobs, et cetera, I'm afraid that we will be in mess, because people would say, "OK, freedom of expression, freedom of association, et cetera, a nice constitution, that's good. But we want jobs, we want..."

And this is why I think the West—if—if the West wants to invest in—in democracy and peace, you must invest in the economic development of Tunisia, because if we—if we fail—I'm not—I hope we are not going to fail. I'm doing everything I can.

But really, the—the—the most dangerous situation for us is not some terrorist attack by ISIS but the fact that—the rate of unemployment still, you know, rise, and this would be extremely dangerous for this—for the (inaudible).

So investing in economy is investing in peace and democracy. This is—this is the message I'm trying to convey everywhere I go.

KRAMER: So you have an economic transformation going along parallel with the political...


KRAMER: ... transformation.

MARZOUKI: Yes, yes.

KRAMER: You have an economy that was controlled by the state...


KRAMER: ... with a large role for the ruling family and their friends.


KRAMER: What are—what steps are you taking and do you plan to take in the future to—to try to address that high unemployment, which is a global problem but certainly one that...


MARZOUKI: We do know that we have to do reforms and that there would probably be a cost. There will be a social cost for this reform, but we would like also that this social cost would be not only, you know, on the shoulders of the poor. Because our revolution has been a revolution of the poor.

So if we don't give them something, I'm afraid that we can have a revolution within the revolution, so we have to be very careful. Yes, we have to do this at fall (ph), but we have to be very careful because once again we—20 percent of our population is living under the line of poverty, and this is—this is a real challenge.

So how—I think that for the next government it won't be an easy task because, yes, we have to do this reforms, but we have to be careful, so I think. Don't forget that in Tunisia we have strong unions, and the strong unions would probably oppose any things in that—you know, threaten some positions.

But in fact, we have bigger—would you like to comment? She's my legal and economic adviser, and she knows a lot about this question better than I do.



MARZOUKI: Do you have a mike?

(UNKNOWN): Hi. I'm Mabrouka M'Barek. I'm a member of the Constituents Assembly. Along...

MARZOUKI: Will you stand up, so people can see where you are stand—sitting?

(UNKNOWN): Hi. So the Constituents Assembly has two tasks: writing the constitution, also working as a parliament. And one of the thing that we've done right away after the election of that Constituents Assembly was, in parallel of writing the constitution, was to start this long project to reform completely our laws. And that was a very difficult—I mean, it's still going on. We haven't really completed our taxation laws, for example, is not adequate to help the middle class and the poor. We also had to have a new budget that will help these—these social groups.

So, I mean, it's very challenging, but I think that Tunisia is really on the track. Last week, we passed a new law for renewable energy, and we were really excited to see a lot of investors really, you know, ready to come to Tunisia and create jobs.

We have more laws in the pipeline. Working on the legal framework will really unleash economic project and help Tunisia to create job and also help Tunisia to become a strong economic partner to—to America, Europe, and Africa.

KRAMER: Thank you. Thank you.

So the—the economic and political are obviously closely linked, and the—your ability to track investors and grow the economy depends, in large part, on being successful in this election process.

National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute were recently there. They gave a generally positive assessment of election preparations, but they warned that partisan misconduct—that was their term—could undermine the process and erode public confidence. And they emphasized the importance of public confidence in the process.


KRAMER: Are you fairly confident that the various contending parties, and there are many—I think you said there were more than 30 candidates for president. Are they all buying in? Will they all participate? Will they accept the outcome?

MARZOUKI: Yes, I'm quite sure because we have had a lot of discussion about the issues. And we—in—the most important political parties signed the kind of treaties saying that we have to be very careful about the way we're talking to—about each other and so forth. There—there is, you know...

KRAMER: A kind of code of conduct?

MARZOUKI: Yes. Yes, code of honor, and I think everybody would stick to it. You know, it's altruist (ph) experience in having—conducting fair elections. And everybody's watching everybody, so I think that we—and we do know that also the whole world is watching us, especially the Arab world, you know because—so we feel the—the weight of responsibility.

And I think we will be, I hope, and I will do everything I can, too, so we can be, you know, match (ph) this—you know, Tunisia is—once again, Tunisia is a small country. And we've very much surprised to see how important it's becoming for the Arab world. So we feel the—the responsibility, and I think we will do everything we can.

KRAMER: So the last time you ran for president you ended up jail. You don't think it will work out that way?

MARZOUKI: As I told you, where we are having now more than 30—30 candidates, isn't it?


MARZOUKI: No, no. No, no, not 69 candidates.



(UNKNOWN): About 30.

MARZOUKI: Thirty. About 30.

KRAMER: Who—who are ready today...


KRAMER: ... having met the registration deadline?

MARZOUKI: Yes, yes, about 30. So—but of course, I will have three...three opponent if I may say, but on the other hand, I am very proud of it. Because in 1994 when I (inaudible) after the election I was sent to jail for four months because it was taboo. And now I am very proud to see that many simple citizens, you now, can run and nobody would—would harm them. This—this is the—this is the—prove that now we have done it. Now we have democratic state.

Well, I think it's good thing. It's good thing.

KRAMER: So when you appeal for American and other investors, what—where—where are you asking? Where—where do you think the opportunities lie? And where do you need this kind of capital?

MARZOUKI: Well, once again, we—if you—if you want to invest in democracy and peace, once again, you have to invest in economy. This is what I say every—everywhere. And I do know that—in fact, there are a lot of opportunity, you know, energy, agriculture, power, everything. You know, we—we need everything.

So we can—yesterday I had the meeting with businessmen. And we—we're talking about—do you...


MARZOUKI: Could you—could you get some information about...


KRAMER: So you met with the Business Council for International Understanding and you made a pitch for the kind of investment you'd like to have in Tunisia?

(UNKNOWN): Yes, good morning. I'm the ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Welcome to all you. Yes, we have a very interesting meeting there, and we thank them for taking their time to come to our meeting. And we know that for the private, time is money, and we were sure after the meeting that they haven't lost their time with us.

They—they—they expressed a big interest in—in Tunisia. Some of them are already there. Others are asking for—they have intention to go there for the other day. And it's—its regiment (ph) asking for the future of the region more than the future of Tunisia. I think they are confident in our country there.

They have expressed a lot of interest in energy sectors, and in new renewable as well in energy, in agriculture, in tourism, and in some technology, yes, for the services, and for technology for all the matter related with tech, yes, and public service as well.

So this was the situation. This is circumstances (ph) in our tradition to have this kind of meeting. This is the third meeting as well that Mr. President have had with the (inaudible) U.N. (ph) we have had a lot. We have had governors. We have had a lot of chief executive officers. So this was—this is a complimentary (ph) of this, (inaudible).

KRAMER: Thank you.

(UNKNOWN): I also have answer to some of your questions. Thank you.

KRAMER: Mr. President, let me ask you about another issue that's a global one, but is very much part of your political dialogue in Tunisia. And that's the role of women in the political process and society more generally and—and the related issue of violence against women, which is being addressed in many countries.

MARZOUKI: Well, I think we still have this problem, violence against women. You know, for—for decades this problem has been ignored like also child abuse and neglect, you know. Nobody talk—is talking in Tunisia. I was the first to talk about this issue in—in the '90s that we have also this important social problem, child abuse and neglect.

So—but as far as women are concerned, we have—in the constitution it's—it's obvious that we have the equality of gender. Now, I would say that when you compare once again the situation of women with another country we see the big difference, social right, political rights, equality, and so forth.

But this is on the paper. But the society itself, you know, we still have resistance in society. We still have some problems. And I think we—we have to tackle this issue very seriously. But for me, as a—don't forget that before being a human right activist, I'm—I'm professor of public health. So I dealt with the problem of—you know, had problems I—I know that targeting women is extremely important for improving health of women and children.

And my main problem now is that poverty, which is our real enemy in Tunisia—poverty is mainly, I wouldn't say women's problem, but the poorest part of the population is women. So now with the problem is not to talk about—about political rights because nobody is discussing political rights or equality in Tunisia—men and women. But addressing the main problem is poverty, is social and economic rights.

So talking about women's rights for me now means talking about social and economic rights, not political because that's--nobody is discussing this now.

(inaudible) can—could you elaborate because you are woman and also involved in this?

(UNKNOWN): (OFF-MIKE) Yes, as I said last year, actually here at the Council of Foreign Relation, the constitution right in the preamble, we actually constitutionalized the equality and the parity. Right in the preamble we said the citizen men and women are equal. I don't think if we—we can top that.

The parity was a big revolution because it's now in the constitution. We've done really good in terms of women participation. I think we still have to work on it, but in the Constituents Assembly, we are—about 64 women on 217 (ph). We have the women caucuses, so this is really working really well. We've—we're finding a lot of dynamics now with civil society.

Now the work that we're trying to do is getting social workers and civil society coming to parliament and talking about these issues of violence against women. I know there is a law that is going to be enacted soon about this subject. And definitely working on improving the laws, constitutionalizing all of this, I think we've done a great job.

Participation of women is increasing in Tunisia, especially young women. We see in all political parties, they are involved, And that's a great thing. We should continue that.

And now, it's working with the social workers, and the Ministry of Women Affairs and Family (ph) is doing a great job and we hope they will to continue. Thanks.

KRAMER: So, Mr. President, what are some key things that can be done to address the poverty of women? And in general, it's 20 percent that's—of the poor in Tunisia.

MARZOUKI: We have a special program.

Could you elaborate on the special program we have?

KAHLAOUI: I'm Tarak Kahlauoi, the director of the Tunisian Institute for Strategic Studies.

The president knows that he wants just to—us to talk. So, yeah, we have this project on poverty, which is—which is going to be supported by financement, including by foreign donors. And it's addressing specifically the idea of promoting small businesses, especially with the young people, and it's going to start—and this is not necessarily one of the prerogatives of the president, but he's pushing for this and he has been pushing for this now for at least two years. And finally we established this program that we hope is goingto continue, regardless of who's going to be president and what kind of government we're going to have after these elections, which are going to be basically in the next two months.

Thank you.

KRAMER: And, before we open it up to the audience, one question about, too, on the topic you mentioned about Tunisia is not an island. And you're impacted not only by your neighbors, Algeria and Libya, but by the region in which you're located and where things—where the violence and the conflict has increased in recent days.

Are you concerned that this is going to impact the electoral process? And what other impact is it having on Tunisia?

MARZOUKI: Well, the next 20 or 60 days will probably be very dangerous for us, because we are ready, and if any—any threat. We are waiting now to step outside, you know, that we could have a political assassination or any kind of attack.

But, once again, this won't derail the train, because Tunisia is on the track and everybody is ready for the—for this—I hope it won't happen, but we are ready. Psychologically, we are ready. We do know that we are targeted by the—by the terrorists and that their objective, once again, is to stop the process.

What I'm afraid of is the—you know, the situation in Libya because there—you know, Libya is extremely important for us, for Tunisians. If Libya was a stable state, we would have probably resolved some of our economic problem.

But now on the contrary, we—Libya is now a burden on our—on our shoulders, because we have 2 million refugees, 2 million Libyans living in Tunisia. Two million, that means on 10 million Tunisians, and that's too much.

But, so, not only Libya didn't help us to solve our problem, economic problems, but we have to solve economic problems of Libya. So the situation is extremely difficult.

And we are afraid if there are more violence in Libya, then we will have two other millions, and that Tunisia would be absolutely incapable to tackle this kind of problem.

So, this is why we work very hard, you know, to it, politically, to tell the Libyans, look, we have done something, you can—you can do it also, because reaching the consensus, of course, it's difficult. Of course, it takes time. But it's much more interesting than, you know, fighting against each other, and you do know that you are not going to reach any solution.

The problem is that the Libyans, you know, are torn between two models, the Tunisian models and the other models, you know, where depolarization and, you know. And I am afraid that for the moment, I hope that the Tunisian model would prevail, but otherwise, Libya really would become the new Somalia, and this is not acceptable for us.

This is why we are working very close with our Algerian brothers, with our neighbors, because we have the same—you know, opinion, we have the same objectives, that to stop this chaos coming from the Middle East, as far as possible, you know.

Fortunately, the Maghreb region is a—is a stable region. Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia, we are—we are trying now, once again, to talk about the Maghreb (inaudible), Maghreb, because this region could be the most stable part in the Arab world.

I hope that the situation would improve in Egypt, but I have heard that Al-Sisi was talking about—possibly about having a—I wouldn't say a reconciliation, but I hope that Egypt—my opinion is that there is no other solution than to talk with your enemies and try to find a solution, a political solution.

What's happening in Syria and Iraq is quite frightening, because fighting ISIS, you know, without—without addressing the roots of the problem seems to me, as a—as a physician, you know, it's just to take up the symptoms and not the root cure of the disease.

Thank you.

KRAMER: All right, we're going to invite members of the—we're going to invite members present to join the conversation. A reminder that this session is on the record.

Please wait for the microphone. Stand and state your name and a question in a concise manner, please.

I'll start in front here.

QUESTION: Michael Gordon, New York Times.

Sir, you mentioned the ISIS problem, and people have come from your country to join the jihad in Iraq and Syria. Do you know how many Tunisians have volunteered to do that? Why did they do that? Have any returned to your country, and has that been a problem for you?

And do you think President Obama did the right thing last night by carrying out air strikes against ISIS in Syria?

MARZOUKI: Well, I don't—I don't know exactly how many Tunisians are there. But what we do know that we are preventing young people from going to Syria. We are doing everything we can—we can do, you know, to prevent them from leaving Tunisia, everything.

When we—when we think that this guy is probably going to, we stop him, even if, sometimes, it's not quite legal. I ask myself, the Turkish government, many times, you know, maybe we can (inaudible) Tunisians coming, because some of them, you know, go to Syria through Turkey.

So we do everything we can, you know, to prevent young Tunisians from going.

But the question is why we have so many young people who are going there, but this is the same question you have to ask in France, in Britain. I mean, a lot of countries have the same—the same—the same phenomenon.

So, well, the Tunisian problem is obvious. The young people in Tunisia with no jobs, with no (inaudible), and don't see their future. Propaganda also, probably the romance of the jihadists. A lot of reasons.

But, we—we are very much, you know, careful about people coming back from Syria, and we have—now we are watching very closely everybody coming from having been in Syria.

About President Obama's decision, yes, I think it's—ISIS is probably the most important threat not only to we in the area—it's—don't forget that 99 percent of the victims of ISIS are Muslims and Arabs. Of course, I do condemn, very strongly, what happened to the two American citizens, but please don't forget that 99 percent of the victims of ISIS are Arabs and Muslims.

I must say that I also condemn very—I'm very ashamed as a Muslim for what happened—happened to our Christian brothers, because Christians in Iraq are really Arabs, because they are citizens, and what happened to them is extremely unacceptable.

Of course, I can understand that we have to stop this, to tackle this problem by military means. But, once again, we have to address the roots of the—of the—of the problem. ISIS is the price we are paying for more than 50 years of, you know, the wrong politics, corruption, repression, et cetera, et cetera.

We are paying now the price. And if—if we want to tackle the real problem, we have to go—to go to the roots of the problem. Once again, it means, you know, you—it's—I—I—I think believing that we can combat ISIS only with weapons, it's—it's a nonsense; it's a nonsense.

The problem is that we have to do it right now, and that if we want to begin now, the social, economic, political reform, et cetera, et cetera, it takes a lot of time, 10 years, then you will have the outcome, 10 years, 20 years, and then we don't have it.

So we have—you have, you know, to conduct both policies, treating the symptoms by military means but also addressing as soon as possible the roots of the problem.

That means that the United States should make all the pressure it can now, with many Arab regimes to do the reform, because otherwise you will have the same phenomena that happens to Libya. A lot of governments in the Arab world still believe that, well, what happened in Tunisia, what happened in Libya, et cetera, will not happen in our own government. I think it's not true.

KRAMER: Can we go to the back here? Hard to see. The woman at this—OK, yeah, go ahead. And then I'll—and then you're next here.

QUESTION: Paul Tierney, Development Capital.

It would make it a lot easier for those of us who'd like to increase our financial commitments to Tunisia if there was a broader and deeper publicly traded market.

I'm wondering what your plans are for developing the capital markets in Tunisia, and especially with all the holdings of the Ben Ali family that were taken over by the government and not yet distributed, are you planning to offer those on the public market and make the ownership of companies in Tunisia more widespread?

M'BAREK: So, one of the biggest challenges is also to improve the business environment in Tunisia. Of course, crippled by cronyism and, we know, corruption. So this is—this is a difficult task. We've already started with implementing better processes, reducing red tape.

It's an ongoing process. Again, having laws and access to information to citizen and resident is really important, making sure that all the processes between investors and the state is transparent and fair.

Unfortunately—to answer the question about the assets, it's—it's a very difficult task to get the assets back. It's not easy. And a lot of countries that went through trying to get the assets back, it takes years because of the different laws, because we're not the only one. And actually, if you look at some of the reports of the World Bank, we see that to get back the assets it takes at least 10 years, unless you get—something passes the U.N.

So again, maybe that can be a message. If you want to help us to...help Tunisia, try to have a motion at the U.N. That actually speed up the process to get all the assets back. But again, we are trying to—we definitely are working in to making the administration more transparent and more—with more governance. There is—we constitutionalize the decentralization and we're giving a lot more power to local—to local communities.

And this is an ongoing process and we're really going into the right direction. So we definitely seeing improvement and a better environment. And again, this is going to improve.

Thank you.

KRAMER: Thank you. Right here.

QUESTION: Hi. Good morning. Sarah Leah Whitson from Human Rights Watch.

First, just to commend Tunisia on its constitution, and more importantly for its constitution drafting process which I think is a model for the region that sadly has not been copied by other states.

What concerns us now is the continued impunity of security forces not only for the recent political assassinations that the government has failed to prosecute, but also for the failure to prosecute any senior-level government officials for the killings of protesters under the prior government.

How can you explain Tunisia's continued failure to seriously prosecute the chain of the command killings by security forces?

MARZOUKI: Well, I wouldn't—I wouldn't talk about the failure. I think, as I told you, we have had to face a lot of problems, mainly security problems, of course, but not—but not only. (inaudible) consensus about first of all let's try to unite the nation. Let's try to begin with the independent judiciary—transitional justice. And let's—let's (inaudible) and this is what we're working on.

So, I'm sure that we (inaudible). It's very difficult to (inaudible). I must be frank with you. We have to be very careful both with the political situation because we do need—badly need our security forces. But on the other hand, we have also to be—to accept that some (inaudible).

I have been victim of violation by security forces. But when you are battling, when you are fighting against terrorists (inaudible) in account. It's a very difficult decision to make. You have to accept that some people, you know, have been violating the rights of Tunisians. It's very difficult to say, OK, this is not most important thing; now, for the moment, I have to be very careful with the security forces; I have to encourage them because (inaudible) in my fight against (inaudible).

So I'll just say it's—I have been human rights activist and I'm still a human rights activist. I do know how you think and how I think in this matter, but sometimes also (inaudible) you have to take political decisions. It's much more complex.

So, please try to understand me. I'm not betraying my ideas. I'm just saying that in some—in some circumstances, you have to be very careful about.

KRAMER: And does that apply to the 2013 assassinations—the failures—the lack of prosecution or...


MARZOUKI: It's not lack of prosecution. We are waiting for the transitional justice. We want the transitional justice to tackle the issue. I'm expecting it very, very shortly, very carefully because we want also—we want justice and we want also our security forces to work because we badly need them. And otherwise, you know, we could have strikes and then you are—you are—this is reality. This is how things work...it's not all on paper, ideas.

I understand you, but you have to understand me also.

KRAMER: OK. Right here.

QUESTION: Maurice Tempelsman from (inaudible).

Obviously, when the Arab Spring came about, there was a great deal of hope and we were certainly delighted to see the (inaudible) example. Tunisia is with all the difficulties, on a successful route. Simply the way you handled—you collaborated, was alo rather interesting. So we commend you on that.

Many of us who were involved in the process of democratization--I happen to be on the board of the National Democratic Institute and chairof the African Committee--are going through a debate now. And the debate is really in the sense change has to come from within. Political changes are very important, but in the end there's a cultural basis that underlies the process of democracy at this point.

And that debate is going to be very important in the role that we as a country, and institutions, can play in this process.

What advice would you give us? Are there societies that are simply not ready for democracy? And if so, how does one deal with that? How does the Arab world deal with that? I'd love to hear your thinking on that particular subject.

MARZOUKI: Well, you are right when you talk about the cultural basis of democracy, because democracy is not just a matter of elections. It's—I think that it's a matter of accepting the other, accepting that you have to share—the country has to share power. You have to share—you have to share everything. Because in our—our—for centuries, you know, who is the—dominated the situation, who would dominate the country? How would I say this?

M'BAREK: If I may answer the question. And I did work, as an MP with the National Democratic Institute. I thank them for helping—coming in Tunisia.

I think one of the important thing—I don't think we should say that people are not ready for democracy. They're ready, but we need to unleash their potential by education and having access to information and connectivity that will help the people to really express their democratic aspirations. I do believe that people are born to want democracy.

And for a long time, what dominated us as a people, the dictatorship, not having access to—to information was really difficult. For example, you go to the library and get books. All of this helped to maintain the dictatorship.

To really invest in education, getting access to books online, for example, and connectivity is really important; the debate—having young people participate in debate; in having, you know, doing critical analysis and all that—this really helps I think any society, any community to express the aspiration of democracy.

So if I have advice, it's really investing in education and connectivity, and making sure that all societies are open and transparent and work on the basis of good governance.

MARZOUKI: If I could—the main problem now with society—Iwould like to comment on it—main problem of society is, as I told you, is a divided society. Part of it is involved in—deeply involved in the old heritage of Islam. And then the other part of the society is Westernized.

So our main problem now as a society in Tunisia and any Arab society is how to reconcile between Islam and the new values we got from the West. And this is—we have had a discussion—this issue has been discussed for years and I would say even for decades. And I think in Tunisia, this is—this is why Tunisia is so original, so important. In Tunisia, we reached the consensus about how to reconcile between Islam and democracy.

And this debate was a cultural debate before being a political debate. I had a discussion with (inaudible). For four years, we have discussions. But our main objective was to say hey, we don't agree about who has the proof, who hasn't, but we have to agree that we Tunisians are divided and we have to get together. So how can we construct together a new ideal regime? It's really, we have to invent a new ideal regime.

And we did it, I think, myself and (inaudible) and some other Arab intellectuals, mainly Tunisian intellectuals, we had—we tried to really invent a new ideology that everybody feel free to say "that's my ideology.'

And with our constitution, and our constitution is not just a book of laws and principles, it is really this image that we have--this ideology we have tried to bring together so we can give our—our population the belief that they really belong to the same people and they have something—some values in common.

And this was once again cultural and I will say even a ethical debate before being political. And this is why, because we have achieved--because we have had this discussion, then we could have this, you know, this government, this (inaudible) government between secularists and Islamists.

KRAMER: Right here.

QUESTION: Jeff Laurenti.

Mr. President, you twice made reference to being backed by our Algerian brothers and you noted that the Maghreb is a region of stability. We wake up this morning to news accounts of a Frenchman arriving in Algeria two days ago and next day kidnapped by a group that declares itself affiliated with Daesh, with the ISIL.

How secure a rock is Algeria in the region? How would you assess its progress, without the uprisings of 2011, at democratic evolution? And what kind of backing do you actually get from Algeria in navigating your way through these currents? I mean, if Tunisia has (inaudible) problems, Algeria had a 10-year bloody insurgency. How stable really is Algeria?

MARZOUKI: Well, we have very good relationship with Algeria. Once again, if we didn't have this kind of relationship, really would have been a mess. We are backed economically. Algeria is helping Tunisia economically. We are backed militarily. We share information, intelligence with our Algerian brothers and so forth.

I think that Algeria is a stable country. And I hope it will remain a stable country, because otherwise really it would be a catastrophe. We do have a new region of stability. I think that Algeria and Morocco, both, understood what happened in the Arab world and I think there are some reforms on the track.

But once again, we badly need the cooperation with Algeria. Otherwise, we cannot afford to have problems on both frontiers (inaudible) frontiers.

KRAMER: OK. I'm getting the word that the president has a very busy schedule and needs to be leaving very soon. We can take one more question, if you have one. There's one right here.

QUESTION: Thank you. It's Mark Landler with the New York Times.

Mr. President, you were itemizing all the ways that Tunisia is different from some of its neighbors at the beginning of your remarks. And one other difference is that the United States doesn't have a deep engagement with Tunisia, certainly militarily. And I wonder whether to some extent you feel that that has also spared you some of the division and chaos and polarization that you alluded to?

MARZOUKI: Maybe, maybe, but now we are asking for more involvement. Of course, not military, but more in helping and supporting the economy of Tunisia. Because I have had very interesting discussion with Vice President Joe Biden, and even with President Obama. And I believe that they know that supporting Tunisia is really investing in peace and democracy in the whole region.

And I'm sure that we're going to have more and more involvement from the United States in the democratic process in Tunisia. Once again, Tunisia is a small country, small market, but its influence is much more important because for the whole Arab world, it could be the model. And this is why we have to succeed. I always say that we don't have the choice. We have to succeed or to succeed. This is my slogan for the electoral campaign.

KRAMER: Thank you, Mr. President. We thank you for taking time to be here.


Once again, this was an on-the-record session. And thank you all for participating.

MARZOUKI: Thank you.


"…our constitution is not just a book of laws and principles, it is really this image that we have—this ideology we have tried to bring together so we can give…our population the belief that they really belong to the same people and they have something, some values in common. And this was once again cultural and I will say even an ethical debate before being political. And this is why, because we have achieved—because we have had this discussion, then we could have this government between secularists and Islamists."
- Mohamed Moncef Marzouki
"…now we are asking for more involvement. Of course, not military, but more in helping and supporting the economy of Tunisia. …And I believe that they know that supporting Tunisia is really investing in peace and democracy in the whole region. …Once again, Tunisia is a small country, small market, but its influence is much more important because for the whole Arab world, it could be the model. And this is why we have to succeed."
- Mohamed Moncef Marzouki
"Of course, I can understand that we have to stop this, to tackle this problem by military means. But, once again, we have to address the roots of the problem. ISIS is the price we are paying for more than fifty years of the wrong politics, corruption, repression…I think believing that we can combat ISIS only with weapons, it's—it's a nonsense; it's a nonsense."
- Mohamed Moncef Marzouki
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