‘Revolution fails’ if Tunis fails in battle on poverty

‘Revolution fails’ if Tunis fails in battle on poverty

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
‘Revolution fails’ if Tunis fails in battle on poverty

Tunisian President Marzouki (R) talks to Daily News reporter Ali Kayalar. DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜREL

The Tunisian revolution will fail if the country, which is now ensconced in efforts to construct a stable political system, does not succeed in offering higher living standards to its 2 million impoverished citizens, President Moncef Marzouki has told the Hürriyet Daily News.

 “We had this revolution because of this poverty,” he said yesterday during an interview on the sidelines of a three-day official visit to Turkey.

“If we don’t [bring] 2 million Tunisians out of poverty, then we will fail in the revolution, because it is important to have a democratic state, but it is more important to give people jobs,” he said. “Dignity without jobs and a standard of living is nothing.”

Poverty is a national problem, and any party that comes to power after elections expected by the end of this year should have a ready-made plan to overcome the problem within five years, said Marzouki.
“Nobody has a miraculous solution, so we have to sit and think together about different plans and unite our ideas for a national plan against poverty,” he said.

The president is very hopeful of achieving a constitutional consensus by the end of July. “We are in a hurry to have this election because when we have the elections, we will get the real image of the country.”

Commenting on efforts to construct a new political system that would govern the country until the elections, the president said their main concern was ensuring any return path to a dictatorship was blocked. “It is really our obsession in Tunisia: Preventing a dictatorship.”

The main discussions focus on whether to pick a presidential system or parliamentary democracy with Ennahda, the moderate Islamists also known as the Renaissance Party, backing the parliamentary system while some others back a presidential system.

“We had this situation after independence,” he said. “[Founding President Habib] Bourguiba was the leader of a party, and he had all the power, all the seats in the Parliament. And he became a dictator.

So we are afraid of the parliamentary system because of this old experience. We are also afraid of the presidential system because we had had this under Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and he turned into a dictator also.” Ben Ali was overthrown in a popular movement two years ago.

Now, Tunisia is looking for a balance of power between the president and the prime minister so that nobody can become a dictator.

When it comes to divisions in society, Marzouki said: “Polarization is a fact. But we are fighting against this fact. We know that this could be dangerous for the stability of the country.”

A long transitional period is also dangerous, he said.

Commenting on security issues, the president said not all Salafis were involved in violent actions. “‘Salafi’ is a wide spectrum. Within this, we have people who are Salafis but not violent.”

The violent groups are a “tiny minority,” he said, noting that the republican army was very strong and faithful to the elected government and Parliament.

“The Islam in Tunisia has been moderate for centuries and centuries. These people are not a threat to the stability of the country, but they are a threat for the image of the country. But you have to tackle the problem seriously,” he said.

This problem is also closely linked to solving the poverty issue, he added.

“It might be a religious façade, but behind the religious façade, you have social problems,” he said, noting that the people formed a type of lumpen proletariat.

“Very poor young people are coming from suburban area without jobs. Some of them have been jailed, using drugs,” he said. “In terrorist [groups], they find social rehabilitation. I always say that we have to give them this social rehabilitation. We should find a way to give them job opportunities and so forth.”

As the president of the first country to begin the Arab Spring, Marzouki also has some advice for Syria, the latest end of the spring: A political solution is absolutely necessary.

“For me, what is happening in Syria is terrible because it is no longer a revolution. It is a civil war,” he said. “This is why we need to find a political solution because it is now obvious that no one will win militarily.”

A limited amount of Tunisian people also go and fight in Syria, he added. “Of course we don’t believe that participating in a civil war is jihad. It is just a foreign civil war.”

Both the Syrian government and the opposition need to sit at the same table and reach a solution, he said. “They have to accept each other. Our experience is that. If you don’t accept the other party, if you don’t agree to work with them, then you will clash and the situation will get worse and worse. While you are fighting with each other, the economic situation is getting worse. And then the political situation is getting worse and worse. Then you are in a mess.”


The biggest change since the revolution in Tunisia has been that people have been freed from their fear, President Moncef Marzouki said.

“Under dictatorship, Tunisians used to live under fear. … Now they talk about everything,” he said.

“Under the dictatorship they could talk only about football. But now they talk only about politics. At that time everybody specialized on football and now everybody specializes on politics.”


Turkey has achieved great development in the past 10 years and has a lot to share with Tunisia, President Moncef Marzouki said while commenting on why the country has turned into a role model for the so-called Arab Spring nations.

“I came here 10 years ago, and five years ago, and I see the difference. This country is getting rich,” he said.

“You are more powerful and more present at the international level,” he said, adding that the government policies were behind the success.

“I think we have a lot to learn from Turkey. We have also a middle class. We also have the skilled people. We also have a good position very close to Europe,” he said. “We just need some expertise and I think the Turkish government, people and businessmen have this expertise.”

According to him, tourism tops the fields of opportunities, with Turkey receiving around 30 million tourists annually, six times higher than Tunisia.

Energy and student exchanges are other promising fields along with many others, according to him.
“Tunisia is a good gate to Africa, to Libya, to Algeria,” he said.