Former Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki warned against Tunisia shifting from a corrupt tyrannical state to ‘a corrupt democracy’.
In an exclusive interview with Alkhaleej Online, Marzouki urged the “democratic forces” to engage in a “battle to impose conditions conducive to free and honest elections”. He believes that the recent measures and decisions made by the Tunisian authorities aim to “undermine the Tunisian Revolution”.
The following is the text of the interview conducted by Alkhaleej Online’s Tunisia correspondent, Shams Al-Din Al-Naqaz, with Dr Moncef Marzouki.
In a public meeting with your supporters in Tataouine Governorate, you announced the launch of a campaign under the slogan “We will give in” referring to the revolution, the natural resources and democracy. What are the motives and objectives of this campaign?
The return of more than a dozen ministers from the deposed regime to the government, the desire to review the constitution, the exoneration project for the corrupt and the fight against the Truth and Dignity Commission are some of the many signs that the current authority is seeking to undermine the resolution. However, we will not give in to its goals and will not allow our martyrs to die in vain.
You said in the meeting that democracy is being threatened and that there is foreign intervention in national affairs. Can you elaborate?
When the authorities seek to appoint a supporter of the deposed government as head of the Independent Electoral Commission, when it hints that it is unacceptable to have independent constitutional powers and bodies, and when the Constitution is being revised to increase the powers of the President, it is my right to fear for the democracy.
I believe that given its complete failure, the current government is very afraid of the upcoming elections. I also believe that the next battle for the democratic forces will be the battle to impose conditions for free and fair elections. Otherwise, we will have shifted from a corrupt dictatorship to a corrupt democracy.
Doesn’t Dr Moncef Marzouki bear some of the responsibility for the return of the National Constituent Assembly to government?
Absolutely not. You know very well who is responsible. It is the corrupt funds, the corrupt media and the secret agreement between Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes that took place in Paris in the summer of 2013, followed by the concession of all of the revolution’s goals.
In order for us not to become like Syria, my position has been and still is that we must completely cut out the former government, not reconcile with it. This is the only way to renew Tunisia. The mentality of the old government, as well as its governing style, mechanisms, goals and objectives are all corrupt.
Therefore, it is the right of our people, and even their duty, to sever all ties with the old government if they want to escape the quagmire they were led to by the Bourguiba, Ben Ali and Essebsi regimes. They must build a democracy that is not corrupt, an inclusive economy, and a local government that follows the rule of law and is transparent with the civil society. It also requires a media that does not mislead the people. Can you believe that they call those insisting on such goals rebels and that this will lead us to where Syria is now!
The issue of natural resources is still a topic of controversy in Tunisia, but who has the courage to address it?
In my opinion, this issue was decided by the Constitution. All of the natural resources in Tunisia should mainly serve the Tunisians. The local government should contribute to the distributing the resources available in order to develop them rather than just to serve those who have already had their fill.
Your opponents say that your recent meeting in the Tataouine governorate was an indication of the end of your popularity, how do you respond?
As usual, our opponents and enemies rallied together to falsify facts and distort them. The pictures and eyewitnesses are present. If they organise a public meeting without corruption (buses filled with hired mercenaries), we can compare my popularity and theirs.
Who is ruling Tunisia today? Consensus between the two parties or the deep state?
Tunisia has become a dependent state that has lost its independence, which it vehemently and continuously guarded. The current president is unable to make any decision without the approval of the regional forces, and therefore, he has been unable to regain relations with the criminal Al-Assad regime, despite his numerous promises. In addition to the foreign factor, there is also money and media that controls the rules of the game, and of course the deep state.
In your opinion, do you think the deep state is afraid of Ennahda winning the municipal elections and is a reason for the postponement of the elections?
No, I do not believe so. I believe it is fear of the level of the boycott and the victory of independent local lists that are not linked to Ennahda or Nidaa Tounes.
Five months into the war on corruption, can we say that Prime Minister Youssef Chahed is serious about fighting corruption and eliminating corrupt individuals?
First of all, who put Chahed in power? Wasn’t it Nidaa Tounes? Who provided Nidaa Tounes with the testimonies of one of the most corrupt individuals who is currently in prison, Chafik Jarraya? The man reached power through corrupt money and now he wants to combat it?
Secondly, how can we take these claims seriously at a time when the governing system, including Chahed, is fighting to pass an impunity law that would exempt the most corrupt people who wasted public funds, including the Constituent Assembly of Tunisia, ministers that this man brought to his government?
Thirdly, who believes in a war against corruption that only fights some lobbies while overlooking the rest? What about the corruption in the political parties and companies, including those participating in the government? Shouldn’t an investigation be conducted into the funding of all of these parties, including Nidaa Tounes? It is more a settling of accounts rather than a war on the corrupt.
What do you think of the current political, social and economic situation in Tunisia?
The government is completely bankrupt, politically, economically and morally. In addition to Essebsi’s lies regarding the economic leap. All we have gained is zero growth, a threat to the Constitution and freedoms, an impunity project for the corrupt and an inheritance project.
Is it possible for Tunisia to witness another popular revolution due to the deteriorating social and economic situation in particular?
This is what I fear. My role, and the role of peaceful democrats who have not given in or surrendered, is to carry out all of our duties as an opposition, i.e. as an alternative. We must keep in mind that the current government’s tyrannical mentality still confuses the opposition with disruption, irresponsibility and even treachery.
The idea of circulating power does not cross their mind, even though I accepted it and handed power over to them. I am very doubtful that these people will do the same, as they are all made from the same old cloth. Either way, we will do our part, prepare an alternative and seek to address all of the protests in order to stay within a democratic system and in order for the change to occur peacefully in the next elections. This way we can continue down the same path without posing a threat to the stability necessary for investment and prosperity. Otherwise, we will be back at square one, i.e. a peaceful civilian resistance to impose a democracy that is not a sham or corrupt.
What do you wish for if you could turn back time and be president again?
I am not one to look back and lament about the past or punish myself. The past is an experience we learn from on the long road towards liberating the nation from tyranny, backwardness and dependency. The Arab Spring revolutions broke out and they failed or were thwarted, but this is just a phase. Failure in great historical projects is not considered the end, but rather a lesson to learn from, a challenge we rise to, a fall we pick ourselves up from and a new phase in the struggle.
This is why I say that those who believe that the Arab Spring is over are naïve. The revolutions were more a volcano than a spring, and volcanoes become active again and erupt. We are stubborn and insistent on moving forward until restrictions are broken and the darkness diminishes.
This is how we must all think. We must not give up on our dreams and never surrender to any form of frustration or desperation.
This interview first appeared in Arabic in Alkhaleej Online on 6 October 2017