Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Tunisia's in Trouble: My Conversation w/ President Moncef Marzouki at the Council on Foreign Relations Today

There are 13 minutes of empty chairs on the stage, then the conversation begins. This is an excerpt of the transcript, the entirety of which will be posted soon on

            DICKEY: … What we want to talk about today is a little bit about the Arab Spring, which was launched in Tunisia, and where things are going now, that the Arab Spring looks like -- well, looks like Hell in a lot of countries.  Sometimes when I look at what happened in Tunisia, it's a little bit like --  -- I think most of you remember Slovenia in the Balkans, they broke away from Yugoslavia, came away more or less safe and sound, and everything else fell apart and went to Hell.

            Is Tunisia going to remain safe and sound, given all the turmoil that exists now? 

            MARZOUKI:  Of course, this is what I hope.  But, you know, Tunisia is not an island.  And when you have -- on your border, you have a country like Libya, where, you know, the level of violence is extremely high and when you have what -- the situation in Egypt, and when you have also the situation in Syria.  Syria is becoming an internal problem, because we have a lot of young people going to Syria, more than 500 jihadis, Tunisian, 500 Tunisian jihadis are in Syria and we're very afraid that, when they come back to Tunisia, it will be the same thing that happened with Algeria.  You probably know that in the '80s, a lot of Algerians went to Afghanistan and then they come back to Algeria, and this was the beginning of Hell in Algeria, too.

            So we are doing in best in Tunisia, you know, to control the situation.  We think -- we think that we have -- we think that we have a wise population.  We think that we have, you know -- of course, we do have disciplined and professional army.  We think that we are a middle-class society, et cetera, et cetera.  But, you know, nobody can be sure of what could happen.

            Last year, I was here, and I remember that I was -- I was asked many, many questions about the outcome of the Arab Spring.  I was very optimistic at that time.  I wouldn't say that I am now pessimistic.  I would say like I said yesterday that I am pessi-optimistic, because...


            ... because (inaudible) the situation is much more complex and much more difficult than I thought.  Yes, we can -- we will probably -- we can achieve the transition in Tunisia, but, once again, we are not alone, and when we see what's happening in Libya, in Egypt, in Syria, we can be a little bit upset.

            But, once again, I have to say, have to repeat that you cannot say, well, it's a failure or it's a success.  We need time.  You know, you cannot say that the revolution is a success or a failure before, let's say, a decade.  When you think that French revolution, for instance, they had to wait more than 70 years before having the Third Republic, which was probably the success of the French revolution, so you cannot accept Arab -- or any country, you know, to achieve the goals of revolution in just two or three years.

            So we had to be -- we had to be very careful.  I'm very careful, but I think that the outcome would be quite different from a country to another.  And that Tunisia -- I wouldn't say you -- you can bet on Tunisia, but I'm still confident that we could -- we could succeed.  But, of course, nobody knows.

            DICKEY:  Wow.  

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