[Report] Delegation visit of uk and irish members of parliament


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- Delegation Members:
- Introduction
- Resume of Meetings.
- Meeting with Samir Dilou, Minister for Human Rights and Transitional Justice.
- Meeting with Houcine Abbasi, General Secretary, UGTT (Tunisian General Union of Workers).
- Meeting with Imed Daimi, Secretary General, Congress for the Republic (CPR).
- Meeting with the Democratic Alliance – Moncef Cheikh Rouhou, Firas Jabloun, Mahmoud Baroudi.
- Meeting with Ali Laarayedh, Prime Minister (Ennahdha Party).
- Meeting with Beji Caid Essebsi, President, Nidaa Tounes Party and Mohsen Marzouq, Head of International Relations.
- Meeting with Rached Ghannouchi, President, Ennahdha Party.
- Meeting with Larbi Abid, Deputy Speaker of the National Constituent Assembly, Ettakattol Party.
- Meeting with Abderraouf Ayedi, President, Wafaa Party, Dr. Fathi Jeribi, Deputy President, Fedia Najjar, Head of Nabeul Branch.

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[Report] Delegation visit of uk and irish members of parliament

  1. 1. Contents Delegation Members:...................................................................................................................... 3 Introduction ....................................................................................................................................... 4 Resume of Meetings ........................................................................................................................ 5 Meeting with Samir Dilou, Minister for Human Rights and Transitional Justice 5 Meeting with Houcine Abbasi, General Secretary, UGTT (Tunisian General Union of Workers) ...................................................................................................................... 8 Meeting with Imed Daimi, Secretary General, Congress for the Republic (CPR) ..........................................................................................................................................................10 Meeting with the Democratic Alliance – Moncef Cheikh Rouhou, Firas Jabloun, Mahmoud Baroudi ....................................................................................................................14 Meeting with Ali Laarayedh, Prime Minister (Ennahdha Party) ............................15 Meeting with Beji Caid Essebsi, President, Nidaa Tounes Party and Mohsen Marzouq, Head of International Relations ......................................................................18 Meeting with Rached Ghannouchi, President, Ennahdha Party..............................21 Meeting with Larbi Abid, Deputy Speaker of the National Constituent Assembly, Ettakattol Party ..........................................................................................................................25 Meeting with Abderraouf Ayedi, President, Wafaa Party, Dr. Fathi Jeribi, Deputy President, Fedia Najjar, Head of Nabeul Branch ...........................................28 Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 2
  2. 2. Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 Delegation Members:         Lord Norman Warner Frank Feighan TD Jack Wall TD Peter Mathews TD John Deasy TD Francie Molloy MP James Bannon TD Pauline McNeill Dr. Arafat Shoukri, Director, Council for European Palestinian Relations Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 3
  3. 3. Introduction On 27 – 30 October, Jasmine Foundation, in association with the Council for European Palestinian Relations, hosted a delegation of UK and Irish members of parliament in Tunis. The delegation visit aimed to examine and understand the current progress of the democratic transition, and came in the middle of the National Dialogue, which has gathered a spectrum of political parties to agree a timetable for transition to the coming elections. The delegation, headed by Lord Norman Warner, held meetings with ministers, party leaders and members of parliament from a range of political parties to understand the complex Tunisian political scene and examine the progress made and challenges that remain in numerous fields ranging from the economy, security and administrative reform to transitional justice, media reform and the constitution. The delegation were particularly privileged to meet the Prime Minister, a representative of the President and the deputy Speaker of the National Constituent Assembly, representing the legislative and executive bodies that are leading the political transition. Discussion centred on the constitution and the national dialogue, which are at the heart of the process of completing the current transition process and moving to a stable democratic system. Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 4
  4. 4. Resume of Meetings Meeting with Samir Dilou, Minister for Human Rights and Transitional Justice The constitution sets out key principles of respect for universal human rights, international law, equality between men and women and other key values. We have worked hard to draft a text that is agreed on by all, and to achieve consensus. The National Dialogue has established a Committee to agree on the name to put forward for the position of interim Prime Minister and head of a neutral, technocratic government to oversee the organization of the elections. The Committee will decide the name and send it to the National Constituent Assembly – if it is approved, it will be presented to the President of the Republic. Question on equal female representation in Parliament: We chose to adopt the system of gender parity in the candidate lists in the last elections. The issue of ensuring 50/50 representation using positive discrimination is contentious in all countries. However, we are looking for mechanisms to ensure equal representation and this will be discussed by the ISIE (Higher Council for the Elections). It should be noted that nominations for all constitutional bodies – the ISIE, the judicial council, etc. – must be 50% men and 50% women. Question on the main challenges facing the government: The current situation is very complex and different to what it was before the Revolution. For example, we do not have the same neighbours - Libya today is Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 5
  5. 5. not the same as Libya of 2010. There are more than 200,000 armed individuals and thousands of weapons. It is not easy to live in a region which has recently experienced two wars – in Libya, which opened the arms flow throughout the region, and Mali, which is similar to the conflict in Afghanistan where groups have gathered in particular locations, and they have contact with groups in Southern Libya. This has put pressure on our security forces. Under dictatorship, security forces do not have a duty to protect citizens, but are more concerned about protecting the regime. The police and armed forces focus on protecting public institutions and the prevention of crime and protection of borders. Now, the ceiling of freedom enjoyed by citizens is high and this means people have the right to freedom of assembly and association, which means more strikes, protests and public gatherings. In front of the National Assembly we had a protest lasting several weeks that required 1000 army soldiers to maintain security. This puts added pressure on security forces. The challenge is that the extent of freedom expanded faster than the ability to manage it, which can lead to chaos. Question about cooperation with Libya and neighbouring countries: The difference between Tunisia and Libya is that in Tunisia we now have to build democratic institutions. In Libya, they have a bigger challenge - they have to build a state. The Libyan Prime Minister was the victim of kidnapping - this is a reflection of the situation. We are making serious efforts to cooperate, particularly in the economic and security spheres. Question about the role of youth after the revolution: The Tunisian population is young. Revolutions do not succeed without the participation of young people in building democracy. However, the extent of youth participation in political parties and political activism is not clear. The revolution was made by young people, but those in the National Dialogue and government are older. Why? This is not clear. Why is it that most old democracies are monarchies? This is related to historical factors – a monarch gives the population a sense of stability and a mechanism for resolving conflicts. If you see which countries in the Arab Spring underwent revolutions, it was those where there was either oneman rule or there was no rule of law. In Tunisia, we had Presidential rule, which was excessively centralized and used force and repression to enforce its rule. Now we are creating a new model, which takes aspects of Presidential system and aspects of the parliamentary system. There was a lack of oxygen in our political system, and now we are filling our lungs with freedom. However, this leaves us with a need for stability in the context of great changes. This creates a popular search for a stable father figure – the image of a strong ruler. This reassuring father figure cannot be 25 years old – he needs to be older. This psychological need could remain the same for coming years. In this phase people need to feel a sense of security and stability, but we also need to create room for hope, renewal and reform. Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 6
  6. 6. Question about the media and judiciary: Two institutions that have great challenges in terms of reform are the judiciary and the media. Now in Tunisia, everything is open to criticism and things have changed. Anyone can insult the President without fear, which could never be done before. The question of media reform is complex – there is much that has been accomplished but we are still light years away from having a reformed, professional media. Some journalists who used to work for the old regime are still in the media, and they try to make people forget their past. We need to be patient. I, personally, could have brought tens of court cases against journalists, given the number of violations and lies against me but I have desisted from doing so. There will be excesses because there is now freedom, but we have to deal with these with patience and wisdom. I regard it as my own personal sacrifice. There is a very clear intersection between the political and media sectors – you have heads of parties who have their own TV channels, and there are parties which have no popular support but are given vast airtime – Tunisians call them “TV parties”. Regarding the judiciary, the constitution will bring in a constitutional court, which will be the arbiter of disputes about interpretation of the constitution. Under the previous regime we had a constitutional council headed by the President. This new constitutional court will be independent. Question about cooperation across region and standardization of human rights: There are three key challenges in the current democratic transition phase: 1) The expectations of the people are very high. After getting rid of a dictator, the Tunisian people have very high hopes and dreams for their country. 2) It is clear even to the most optimistic that the demands and needs for reform are huge – in the constitutional, legal, institutional fields but also on the level of mentality. 3) New challenges connected to newfound freedoms – freedom of expression, association, political parties, etc. Under the old regime, violations were dealt with through arbitrary arrest, force and detention. Now, we need to change institutions to respect freedom of association and individual rights, and this requires reform on the levels of:    Texts – the constitution, new laws, creating new institutions such as the Council for the Prevention of Torture which is an independent body made up of academics, civil society activists to monitor and investigate any incidents of torture; Practices – violations will not end immediately but a strong message has to be sent that they will be investigated and dealt with, and retraining to change methods; and Pedagogy – cooperation with civil society and educational and religious institutions to create a new understanding and awareness of human rights, equality, elimination of torture, etc. Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 7
  7. 7. Meeting with Houcine Abbasi, General Secretary, UGTT (Tunisian General Union of Workers) Our country is passing through difficulties and a serious political crisis. Maybe Europe is asking why the UGTT is intervening. Since its founding, the UGTT has had the primary responsibility of defending national interests - economic and social. It has played a central role in this since its establishment. Its founder, the martyr Farhat Hached, was assassinated not in a dispute relating to wages, but in fighting for the liberation of Tunisia. This national role has always coexisted with our social role. The UGTT has contributed to building a democratic moderate state since independence and a balance between forces. Whenever the balance fails between parties, the UGTT is one of the first to intervene to support balance. In the revolution, our headquarters played a role in supporting the protests and we had a general strike to demand the end of dictatorship. The UGTT was a member of the Higher Commission for the Realisation of the Aims of the Revolution that took the country towards elections in October 2011. The elections were free and fair, as attested by observers from inside and outside the country. After eight months, the country witnessed a lot of political tension. We felt there was a crisis coming. We took responsibility, in coordination with some parts of civil society, to launch an initiative to bring all sides together around the table to find shared solutions and to avoid a crisis. The first meeting was boycotted by some parties. At the second meeting, all parties attended and set up a commission to manage the transition, but differences prevented an agreement from being reached. Because we did not reach a consensus then, we are now experiencing this crisis – insecurity and terrorist attacks, until the assassination of Chokri Belaid and Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 8
  8. 8. Mohamed Brahmi. In light of the lack of security and the spread of terrorism, it is natural that we launched an initiative, together with the UTICA (Tunisian Chamber of Commerce), LTDH (Tunisian League for Human Rights) and Lawyers’ Union. We started negotiations with all parties and succeeded in two and a half months to start the dialogue. The parties have signed a roadmap and after two weeks of preparation, the dialogue has started. We have agreed on finishing the constitution, the electoral law and setting up the Higher Authority for the Elections. We have also agreed to appoint a new government, and we have one week to agree on a Prime Minister, who will have two weeks to choose his government. Sessions of the commission have started, as well as in the National Assembly. The President of the Assembly has announced that they will hold three sessions a day – morning, afternoon and night – as well as working in the weekends. He has presented a schedule of sittings that will meet the timetable agreed in the roadmap. By next Saturday, we should have a new Prime Minister and the Higher Authority for the Elections. The remaining steps will follow according to the roadmap. There are many challenges but with determination, patience and communication with each other, we can overcome them. The crisis has impacted on the economy and social situation. The security situation is also bad – terrorism can only succeed in a country of conflict. If we are conscious of the dangers, we need to hurry to solve the political crisis, and if we do, the economic and security situation will be resolved. I would like to thank the European Unnion, which supported the Quartet Initiative and put its hand in ours, as friends. The UGTT plays the role of maintaining balance whenever there is no balance in the country or when the national interests are at risk. We are not a political party and do not seek power. Once an election date is set, we will maintain equal distance between all parties. Politics concerns parties; we are a social institution. Question on how UGTT manages to maintain distance from parties: We are not a political party. Nearly all members of political parties are our members. Our internal regulations require independence of officials from all political parties. There are 73 parties in Tunisia, we do not have a commitment to any of them. We only intervene when we see the national interest is at risk. If we were not independent, we would not have the credibility to be able to bring all parties to the table. We try to find solutions by putting pressure on all parties to compromise. We are not serving any agenda – everyone knows UGTT can only work in the nation’s interests and to prevent any party from dominating. Question on the UGTT’s role and the constitution: The elections for the National Constituent Assembly were for an assembly that would write the constitution. However, most parties did not present their vision of the constitution during the election campaign. Most presented economic and social programmes. This phase was for writing a constitution. Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 9
  9. 9. We intervened because we had studied the situation and found many tensions – the first and second national dialogue sought to absorb those tensions. Unfortunately, we have reached the stage where the security context is very negative – if the parties had worked with us from the beginning, we would not be in this crisis. Today, we have to find solutions in a very brief amount of time to restore stability. Meeting with Imed Daimi, Secretary General, Congress for the Republic (CPR) I will introduce the party briefly – the CPR was founded in 2011 by Dr, Moncef Marzouqi and other human rights activists and refugees outside Tunisia. After 20 years of the Ben Ali regime, we found ourselves in a stage where repression had solidified in Tunisia and there was no opening for any opposition voices. The CPR was the only party that called for civil resistance to the regime and for removing dictatorship through popular action. However, the nature of the regime and the lack of external support in opposing the regime - which was supported by Western governments - served to prolong the situation until we experienced the Revolution. The Revolution was a popular revolution, not a political one. In summary, we participated in the democratic transition after the Revolution and had no great material resources, but our discourse was close to the Tunisian people’s expectations. We came second place in the elections, which was a surprise for public opinion. We entered into a coalition with Ennahdha and Ettakattol. We believe the transition requires bringing parties together and moving beyond polarization. It has been a rich experience with many successes and some weaknesses. We participated in the government with five ministers and the President of the Republic, and played a role in preserving the revolutionary spirit in the government. I conclude with this observation – the transitional phase is difficult; there are many attempts from the old regime to return. Now there is a real conflict Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 10
  10. 10. between the revolution and counter-revolution – the latter are seeking to restore the old system. All the latest events – political and security-related – relate to the return of the old regime. It is a sensitive and difficult time – our role is necessary to make the few remaining months of the transition a success. If we can agree the constitution, we can move forward to the elections and each party can present its own programme. The nature of polarization in the political scene in Tunisia is not about different political or economic programmes – we see cooperation between groups of parties who are not at all similar in outlook. There are two key alliances, the first between an Islamic, economically liberal party, Ennahdha, and two parties closer to the social-democratic model, CPR and Ettakattol and the second is between communists, some liberal parties and parties which bring together remnants of the old regime. In this phase the real differences are not about economic programmes – they are over whether the democratic transition will succeed and we can move to a democratic system where parties can compete over their programmes, or whether we will return to the old system and the same old mechanisms. Question about the alliance between CPR, Ennahdha and Ettakattol: There was pre-election dialogue between the parties regarding forming a coalition. All political commentators recognize this as a unique model of cooperation between moderates in order to manage a democratic transition. In the next phase, we will still need a coalition – it is not possible for just one party to govern. We believe the next government has to learn from the current government’s experience, but of course any coalition will change and should preferably be expanded to be more inclusive. We had a coalition between Islamists and secularists because we felt the biggest danger was a division between these two sides. Now all options are open for the next elections. Once the constitution is finally passed, we will enter into the phase of building alliances. Question about the CPR and the methods it used in opposition: In reality, the CPR was a small party, made up of a group of pro-democracy activists that spread its slogan “No fear after today”. We exercised our rights, we did not demand them. Our activists were inside Tunisia and abroad, some in prison, but through our relationships and the media, we managed to gain support and protection for our members in Tunisia so they could be active without being imprisoned. We believed in civil resistance to the regime, through social media, through international media – especially Aljazeera which transmitted our ideas to the Tunisian people. We believe we contributed to creating the conditions for the Revolution to take place. Question about the civil service: First, what occurred in Tunisia was a popular revolution, not a political revolution. The ministers and key posts in government changed but the popular revolution was not accompanied by a cultural and administrative revolution. Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 11
  11. 11. Today, we have a new political elite but the administration is the same, with the same mentality and practices and the same networks. This is changing but slowly – it will take many years and big policies for reform. The Revolution was civilized – not a single act of revenge against the old regime took place. The old regime was at first afraid and distanced itself from the political scene. Gradually, when they realized there was no accountability for their actions and the transitional justice process would not be starting soon, they returned to the scene and are now trying to monopolise the scene towards the end of the transition. There are real fears of a return of the old regime; real fears that the networks that disappeared are returning and connecting to the old regime – security networks, corrupt money, old regime figures outside the country. There is a real terrorist threat – but this is not new. It was present before the Revolution – there were various attempts and operations under Ben Ali. However, there was no media coverage of it then, as the media was statecontrolled. It was only covered when Ben Ali wanted financing to fight terrorism. Now the threat is open – it is connected to the global terrorist threat, intellectually, and in terms of geo-strategic interests. The CPR aims to combat this threat in the domains of security, culture, religion and economy. The nature of the transitional phase makes combatting terrorism difficult and complex – we need the support of friendly nations and neighbours but the situation in Libya and the lack of a state has allowed the terrorist threat to expand. There is also uncertainty in Algeria and bilateral cooperation is not at the level that is required to address this threat. Question about the nature of support for CPR: The parties that make up the Troika coalition government existed before the Revolution. Our voter base is mainly young – the statistics we have show that 85% of those who voted for us are between 18 and 35 years old. Most are middle class and in regions with higher levels of educational attainment. There are now 73 political parties in Tunisia, some have split while some have amalgamated and this is continuing to change. This is natural and the number of parties is now reducing and will probably go down to 10-12 parties, between which there will be coalitions. Forming the Troika (coalition government) was easy – we knew each other from before the Revolution when CPR, Ennahdha and Ettakattol and other parties worked together to combat dictatorship. We had many meetings and managed to reach common positions and values – not just politically but also intellectually, on important issues such as mechanisms for the alternation of power, women’s rights, minority rights, etc. Thus, this closeness formed a good foundation for coalition government. After the elections, we approached the parties that had been part of the preRevolution dialogue, such as POCT (the Communist Party) and PDP (Progressive Democratic Party), including those who had not succeeded in the elections, and Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 12
  12. 12. we invited them to join a coalition government, regardless of the results they had obtained. We took the view that we needed a government based on coalition between parties with a common ground and we rejected any coalition with parties with a relationship with the old regime. We sought a coalition with groups and parties who shared the idea of a break with the old regime. Question about what is needed to organize free and fair elections – voter registration, reasonably objective media and balance in party funding We consider that what threatens democracy is a lack of safeguards – especially funding of parties. There is a clear relationship between political money, powerful lobbies, big business and a number of parties. Some private interests are pumping in money, especially into the opposition. The CPR expressed many times our concern that corrupt money is the biggest danger to democracy. One of our slogans, and which we believe has attracted much support, is one we put on all our publications: “This product is free from political money”. Our media has itself become a political party. We have a dangerous phenomenon where media proprietors and businessmen can buy parties and entire parliamentary caucuses overnight. There is an attempt to replicate Berlusconi’s example in Tunisia. The media openly support the counter-revolution and publish rumours against the government night and day. Media has no safeguards to ensure objectivity and is not playing any role in making the transition a success. Regarding voter registration, we expect a drop in the number of those registered and participating in the elections – because of the difficulties of the transition and the role of the media in making people reject politics. Civil society has an important role in registration efforts. Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 13
  13. 13. Meeting with the Democratic Alliance – Moncef Cheikh Rouhou, Firas Jabloun, Mahmoud Baroudi The Democratic Alliance was formed very recently – it began as an idea two years ago and was formed just a year ago. We have eight deputies in the National Assembly. We are participating in the National Dialogue – in Tunisia we have moved from an understanding of democratic legitimacy based on elections to one based on consensus (tawafuq). There are many challenges facing Tunisia – they relate to the difficulties of enforcing freedom and democracy and achieving real democratization. Security and economic challenges can face any country but they are complicated by the fact we are in a democratic transition. The most important political challenge is to what extent are Tunisian elite and society prepared to build democracy. Our experience till now shows us that the Tunisia people are generally ready for democracy. The problem is that part of the elite finds it difficult to be governed by democratic rules. We speak about democracy but we also need to speak about democratic society – not just elections, rules, institutions, but the degree of freedom in the family and in society. The media also has an important role to play – we now have pluralism but many excesses, which is understandable in the first, second and third year of democracy. But some sections of the media have complicated the democratic transition and confused the public and spread fear among Tunisians. Now there is a degree of awareness among the population of these excesses, which has led to the media losing influence. In relation to the elite, part of it (a minority) has found it difficult to adjust to democracy. They openly announced their rejection of the election results in 2011 and declared they would enter into a confrontation with the government. They occupied regional government buildings and want to appoint their own governors; they interfere in the work of the security forces. Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 14
  14. 14. The rest of the elite have responded positively to democracy. However, there is a crisis of trust between parties – they are afraid of each other and that each will use authority to repress the other. The key issues are identity, social justice and women’s rights. There is a fear among the elite, but the majority want consensus and partnership. Meeting with Ali Laarayedh, Prime Minister (Ennahdha Party) We in Tunisia have achieved a lot but we are not happy with what we have achieved – we see that we have achieved less than we could have. The situation in which the Revolution occurred – the regional and global economic downturn – has slowed down progress and reduced our achievements. It is as if we should have undertaken our Revolution at another time when conditions were more favourable. There have been some significant achievements in the economy – in 2011 the economy shrank by 1.8%. In 2012, we managed to achieve 3.6% growth and are now set for 3% growth in 2013. In employment, at the end of 2011 when we came into government, we had 18.9% unemployment. Now this has been reduced to 15.9% - a reduction of 3% in less than two years. When you look at growth across North Africa and the conditions in Tunisia, the EU and Maghreb, it puts this growth in context. Tunisia’s main export market – the EU – which is its main source of tourists and foreign currency – has been experiencing serious economic difficulties. We can say that our economy has definitely improved but less than it could have had conditions been better. When the government took over, private enterprise was still reeling from the impact of the Revolution and was reluctant to invest. The government had to spend to encourage investment and create employment. Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 15
  15. 15. The growth has been very respectable, especially as reform is a costly endeavor – we have initiated reform in taxation, banking and investment codes but this will only bear fruit in the next few years. In 2014, there will be a reduction in subsidies. Whereas in the past, the state budget was increasing by over 10% year on year, we are reducing that to just 1.2% this year in order to bring inflation under control. Those who started the Revolution were the youth, but almost all sections of society participated. Outside Tunisia, media, parties and civil society groups organized awareness raising campaigns. Inside Tunisia, parties, trade unions and groups of unemployed youth all came together to topple the regime. Ennahdha was one of the primary forces insides and outside that was active throughout the Revolution. Youth are aware and active. They are aware of the threats from chaos and tyranny – from those who reject democracy, elections and the transition. They are anxious to see the demands of the Revolution realized – regional development, social justice, freedom and democracy. Question about how Europe can assist: First, we need those outside Tunisia to understand the reality in Tunisia. We need them to defend the right of Tunisians to build their democracy with the assistance of all their friends. In Arabic we have a saying, “You find out who your friends are in times of need”. We now need our friends to understand the situation and support us through economic exchange and awareness-raising. We welcome their economic support through tourism, investment and trade. We want them to connect with all sections of Tunisian society and to encourage understanding and respect between them. Democracy involves learning and practice. Our friends can be confident that on our part, we are striving for a democratic, secure, stable Tunisia and to protect the democratic transition. We are working hard to agree the constitution, organize free and fair elections and build the democracy for which Tunisians paid a high price. Question about the deep state: The deep state in Tunisia is a term we use to describe the elements loyal to the old regime found at all levels of the state that influenced decision-making and enforcement of decisions. They are the biggest obstacles to reform. There has been a slow pace of reform – the deep state is not the only reason - there is also a lack of acceptance of democracy by a section of the elite, even those who were opposed to the old regime. They have been unable to revise their ideas or adjust to democracy. This has been a factor in slowing down progress and reform. Another factor is the regional context where we have seen an increase in freedom but a reduction in stability. The Libyan situation has resulted in a flow of weapons into Mali and other countries and has created opportunities for terrorist groups to gather and grow. Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 16
  16. 16. A final factor is the global economic situation that has reduced Tunisia’s opportunities for economic growth – 80% of our trade is with European Union countries and the slowdown in the EU has had a significant effect on the Tunisian economy and also on the global economy. Those who came into power in 2011 were all new faces and it was the first time any government had been faced with all these challenges at the same time. We are learning and at the same time moving forward towards greater democracy and stability. People are used to resolving their problems within a framework of tyranny and repression – the Government, state institutions, associations, trade unions, political parties, individuals, we are all used to resolving problems and conducting ourselves in a system based on coercion and repression. We are not used to a democratic context. All these institutions and groups are now going through a revolution and dramatic change. We are still learning how to govern and address our challenges in a democratic spirit. The Revolution came to redistribute resources between regions. There are those who fear losing their privileges and who wish to preserve the privileged position of their own groups and regions that were protected and promoted by the previous regime. This issue connects with what kind of governance we want as a nation. The Revolution’s aims included establishing a just society and fairer distribution between regions. Question on EU assistance to Tunisia: Europe can help by putting forward economic support, political encouragement, expertise based on their experience and security cooperation with the Maghreb. Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 17
  17. 17. Meeting with Beji Caid Essebsi, President, Nidaa Tounes Party and Mohsen Marzouq, Head of International Relations As you know the situation is acute in our country. We headed towards dialogue because we did not want Tunisia to experience violence and chaos. We took the initiative to try to make the dialogue succeed. The difficulty of this dialogue is that it involves different parties of different backgrounds – you have Ennahdha, which is an Islamist party, and the rest of the parties want a modern state. The difference is the type of society we want in the 21st Century, this is not the same one that religious parties are working towards. We believe that whatever type of society we each seek, we must reach consensus. Question about whether seeking consensus can serve to undermine electoral legitimacy and popular will, looking at example of coalition and technocratic governments in Italy First, you must know that we follow the situation in the UK and Ireland and we know their developments. Tunisia is a small country, open to the outside world. We are in a transitional phase, not a stable one. The solution is not majority versus minority. We must reach consensus in order to get out of the current vacuum. Today Ennahdha has a bare majority in the National Assembly and has rules despite this. It has failed. Now our party is the most important party and we believe we can have an absolute majority. If I were to stand for the Presidency tomorrow, I would receive a majority – the opinion polls put me at 25% with the nearest competitor at 3%. Although we believe we would be the number one party, we cannot rule alone. We can only rule through consensus. If the transition succeeds, we must open up the government to broader consensus and coalition. You have not asked, as you could not have known, about the role of the National Assembly. We have had the National Assembly for one year – it had the specific task of drafting the constitution. It did not respect its limits, neither the duration not its role. It has gone from a constitutional body to a legislative body. It is illegal – in fact its members should be prosecuted. We are trying to address this Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 18
  18. 18. weakness by dealing with the reality, not in terms of law. We are trying to support legitimacy based on consensus. Everyone here understands that we are in the middle of a political upheaval. In Italy, the government collapses every year, sometimes twice in a year. The state can continue because they have a system of government that goes beyond the political parties and politicians. The economy survives. We hope our economy can also survive and that is not affected by the security situation. What has happened in the last two years will affect people on the ground for the next 10 years. We have had our credit rating reduced by international ratings agencies. This is not due to fundamental problems in the economy but due to lack of good governance and a lack of experience by the government. The people who are in government from Ennahdha were in prison under repression for 10-15 years. Prison does not prepare you for government. The state has different requirements. We are now trying to hurry to change government because the economic situation cannot withstand the current conditions after the end of the year. I know the situation in Italy – Italian society is different. We are an Arab Islamic society. Tunisia is more developed than other Arab countries – we were governed by Bourguiba who was open-minded and promoted education and women’s rights. We have a broad middle class, so democratic society is not too distant from us. But we are still not there – we have many economic problems. Italy can continue without a government, society keeps going, each Italian has three jobs not one, they have stable institutions. We do not have this. However despite this, if you compare Tunisia to other Arab countries, we are better off. The economic situation, however, is bad – statistics show that while the labour force is 4 million, there are 700,000 unemployed people – a rate of 16%. Among the educated it is 33% and among educated women it is 45%. This is an explosive situation. The regions where the Revolution emerged are marginalised. Before the Revolution we had growth in the coastal regions but other regions were deprived. Our party was not in existence at that time – the Revolution came and the regime fell. I was chosen as the Prime Minister in that important phase after the Revolution and I took the country to democratic, free and fair elections, where Ennahdha received the majority and I respected that. Question about the party’s links to the old regime: Ben Ali ruled Tunisia for 23 years. He presented a document of what he wanted to do. We agreed this as a programme – it was agreed on 7 November 1987. After a year, the truth emerged – we were going in a different direction. He used force, the police and the army to rule, but he added one factor – corruption, by him and his family. This was bad for the social situation in the country and there was high unemployment. Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 19
  19. 19. After the Revolution, the courts dissolved the RCD (former ruling party). However, it did not dissolve the individuals within it – these are two types: 1) corrupt people who were prosecuted; 2) patriotic people who were not criminals. Just as you are all coming from different parties but it is not a crime. They are all citizens like all others and have the right to political participation. If we exclude them, they are denied their full citizenship rights. Our party has all sorts of people – Islamists, leftists, people who were in the RCD for 30 years. This is no problem. What you hear about us being old regime is merely hearsay from supporters of Ennahdha – it is false and meaningless. Despite it, we are established and gaining support. I see that you are coming from the Council for European Palestinian Relations. We were the first to support the Palestinian cause, but our position is different to that of other Arab countries. For them, it is an internal issue. For us, it is a matter of the right to self-determination. We said that we should take the position set out in Resolution 181 of 29 November 1947 that partitioned Palestine. This resolution gave Palestinians a significant part of the land. The Arab states did not share our view, but decades later we now find that the Palestinians are accepting much less than the borders set out in Resolution 181. Israel is supported by all European countries who have a guilt complex because they betrayed six million Jews in the Holocaust. We have had Jews in Tunisia for hundreds of years and they are integral part of our society. But a Jewish state would mean no rights for non-Jews and it would be an ethnic state. We believe this has no future in the region. Question on the opinion poll statistics: Mohsen Marzouq: We have four or give polling institutions, and they all say the same thing – that we are leading in the polls. There is now 6 points difference between us and the next party. In fact, Mr. Essebsi is acting as de facto President of Tunisia. When he appears on television, 76% of the nation watches him. His story is a success story. We want to find a historic consensus with Ennahdha not just to get out of this crisis but for the sake of the next 10 years. If we win 51% in the elections, we cannot rule the country alone, and neither can Ennahdha. It is about economy, how to achieve prosperity and give hope to people. We do not have a problem with Islam and democracy, but we have a problem with Islamism and democracy. The terrorist threat is very serious. When the US ambassador came to visit us a few days ago, he was accompanied by Marines and a large convoy. This shows the threat is very serious. To fight terrorism we need cooperation from the population, and to have this we need agreement among the political elite. Terrorism in Tunisia threatens Europe – we are only 40 minutes from Europe. Question on the constitution and whether ordinary people will be involved in the discussions or a referendum: Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 20
  20. 20. Mohsen Marzouq: If I had the choice, I would prefer a referendum to allow people to discuss the constitution. We lost a lot of time – Ennahdha has wasted a lot of time and other parties. They spent a lot of time talking about different issues. We cannot lose time – our economy is a in a very bad situation. The National Assembly is in an illegal situation, the Government is illegal, if we had a constitutional court it would have held the Assembly to be illegal. The army and police are now accepting orders from illegal bodies. If the government resigns, it is not because they care about the national interest. If it were succeeding, it would not be in the national interest for it to resign. The Prime Minister, who was formerly the Minister of Interior, proscribed Ansar Shariah as a terrorist organization. The US is going to make a similar announcement in a few days. I believe there are one or two wings of Ennahdha with links to terrorism. It is an issue of ideological approach – when Islam and politics mix, then it is a matter of degree whether you have radical or moderate. Meeting with Rached Ghannouchi, President, Ennahdha Party We are very happy to have such a distinguished group with us. I have a very special relationship with your countries, given that I found refuge for more than 20 years in the UK. I am also a member of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, whose headquarters are in Dublin. I spent 20 years in the UK as an activist and lecturer, I was active intellectually and traveled throughout the country, and was treated with respect and never encountered repression or police intervention. My children studied in the top universities in the UK and I Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 21
  21. 21. visited many of the UK’s top institutions, the House of Commons and others, and was able to witness its political system in action. The situation in Tunisia is that we are living through a transition from dictatorship to democracy. We are at a phase of building democracy but it is not yet stable. The old system has fallen but not completely. The new system is being built but not yet fully formed. The draft constitution is ready, only a few touches remain which will be completed in the coming few weeks. There will be a date set for the elections in the next six months. The electoral law is ready, and we are in the final phase of the transition to democracy. We are engaged in a national dialogue led by four institutions – the UGTT (General Tunisian Union of Workers), the UTICA (Chamber of Commerce), LTDH (Tunisian League for Human Rights) and the Lawyers’ Union – who brought together political parties to put the final touches to make the democratic transition succeed. We took the step of ceding power to provide for a an independent technocratic government to oversee the organization of the elections, and to ensure the democratic transition succeeds through reaching a higher degree of consensus. The legitimacy of the process is not just based on electoral legitimacy but also on consensus, which is very important. I think you have some idea of the parties currently in the governing coalition, the Troika – Ennahdha is an essential component together with two centre-left parties. This coalition is very important in the Arab world. It is a coalition between moderate secularists and moderate Islamists, two groups who had been in conflict for decades. We want to show that these two groups can coexist, on the basis of shared citizenship, and can even be allies. Islam and democracy are not incompatible. We believe that there must be equality between men and women, that the state must not impose any lifestyle, mode of dress, or personal preferences on the people. The role of the state is not to impose a lifestyle but to provide services and security to the people. The British model of the relationship between religion and state is closer to our model – religion coexists with society. The French model is based on conflict between religion and society, but it is not the only model in Europe. We find Christian parties in many European countries and a peaceful coexistence between state and religion. Question on the economy: When we entered government after Essebsi’s interim term in October 2011, growth was below zero - -1.8%. Unemployment was 19%. The Troika government has revived the economy, raising growth to 3.6% and reducing unemployment to 15%. This is still high but it is decreasing. The government managed to create over 100,000 jobs in just over a year – that is a significant achievement. When we came into government, the tourism sector was in deep crisis with tourist resorts completely empty. This year, Tunisia will welcome altogether Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 22
  22. 22. seven million tourists. We are grateful to the UK in particular, as it was the biggest European country in terms of visitors to Tunisia – over 400,000 British tourists. There is unfortunately a fall in French tourist numbers largely due to the negative media coverage there. We have re-established economic stability. When we came into government, foreign currency reserves were plummeting. Now, the government has foreign currency reserves for 114 days of imports. There are doubtless many economic problems that remain. We have encouraged foreign investment and offered many incentives and guarantees to attract investment. We have had significant British investment in Tunisia in the last two years, particularly in the energy sector. There are internal regions from which the Revolution sprang where there are still serious economic problems. There are many expectations and limited resources. The EU financial crisis has had a significant impact on our economy as the EU is our main trading partner, representing 80% of our trade. Another key issue is subsidies – a fifth of the state budget (28 billion Tunisian dinars) goes towards subsidies to ensure a decent standard of living for ordinary citizens. Tunisia does not export energy, and the rise in global fuel prices has had an impact on our spending. The biggest resource we have is education - we have an educated population and a geographical position that is open to the world. Tunisia is now in the best situation out of any of the Arab Spring countries. We still have a vibrant tourist industry, we are still open to the world and we have respectable levels of foreign investment. What is holding back further progress is lack of certainty regarding the political situation. The national dialogue proposes to put in place an interim technocratic government of non-political independent figures who will preside over government until the elections. This would help ensure the elections are organized in a strictly neutral way and there can be no accusation of bias. The Prime Minister and the members of the government have to be agreed by the parties. We are now discussing the candidates for Prime Minister. Then the Prime Minister will propose the members of his or her government and present them to the National Constituent Assembly, which is the elected body. Through this process, we seek to end the current political uncertainty, finalise and pass the constitution, establish the Higher Authority for the Elections and set an election date, within one month. Once we resolve the political situation, the economic and security situations will stabilise. Question on subsidies and IMF pressure: Subsidy reform is a challenge – past governments have delayed addressing this issue. Other countries that have tried to reduce subsidies on essential goods have witnessed protests and upheaval. Tunisia itself saw big protests in the 1980s when Bourguiba reduced subsidies on essential goods. All countries fear this Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 23
  23. 23. issue. In fact, the IMF is not pressurizing the Tunisian government because it does not want to cause instability and losses to the government and to itself. We are not planning to reform subsidies now even though subsidies currently do not reach those who are most in need of them. A government just emerging from a revolution cannot undertake such a step. Perhaps another elected government can do it, but reform must be undertaken to make sure subsidies reach those who are most in need. Question on which sectors jobs have been created in: The government has created over 100,000 jobs – a quarter of these are positions in the public sector. Another segment have been given retraining and absorbed into vocational placements. The British Council has been giving valuable assistance through providing English language training – this is a valuable skill given the demand for English-speaking skilled workers in Libya and the Gulf. Some others have been employed in the technology sector. Question on the danger of the old regime returning: This is a risk. The old regime has not disappeared. Our revolution was a peaceful one – we did not execute or persecute any old regime figures. Altogether, no more than 15 individuals from the old regime have been detained and prosecuted. Not a single act of revenge was undertaken against old regime figures – this despite the fact that hundreds of Ennahdha supporters were killed under torture by the old regime. The old regime is no longer united. The former ruling party ruled the country for 50 years. It has been dissolved and its leaders have dispersed into many parties. The issue of how to address past regime violations has to be dealt with through a clear transitional justice process – we have said from the very beginning that justice must be based on individual accountability and not collective punishment. We distinguish between those who committed violations and those who were not responsible for violations. The Ministry of Human Rights and Transitional Justice has been preparing a law, based on its study of many models of transitional justice from around the world. The draft law has been presented to the National Constituent Assembly and is awaiting discussion. Question about extremism in Tunisia and the claims of some opposition parties against Ennahdha: It is not surprising that opposition parties will seek to criticize the party in government. This is normal in any democratic country and we would not expect them to commend us or sing our praises. But we must address these allegations head-on. There is terrorism in Tunisia and it is a significant problem. This is not specific to Tunisia – terrorism is currently a global problem. It is not new to Tunisia - under Ben Ali’s rule, terrorist groups struck many times and there were a number of terrorist operations, even on tourists – one attack killed 17 German tourists, and there was the attack on the synagogue in Djerba. Fortunately this has not occurred under the current government. Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 24
  24. 24. Under Essebsi’s rule, there were numerous terrorist attacks and many army officers were killed. Essebsi’s government released more than 3000 Salafis from prison. Now we have a serious issue in terms of security on our borders with Libya and weapons smuggling. The army and security forces have been working hard to combat these phenomena. More than 40 terrorists have been killed in confrontations with the army, and more than 15 army officers killed. There are hundreds of terrorist suspects in prison awaiting trial. This is not a Tunisian phenomenon – Tunisians as a whole reject extremism of all kinds. It is a reflection of the regional situation. However, it is notable that it has occurred mainly in poor areas. There must be developmental solutions as well as education to correct misinterpretations of religion. Meeting with Larbi Abid, Deputy Speaker of the National Constituent Assembly, Ettakattol Party We chose the difficult path in democratic transition. After the Revolution, we could have opted for just a few amendments to the 1959 constitution after the fall of the regime. However, popular will demanded otherwise. People have bad memories of the 1959 constitution, which Bourguiba and Ben Ali amended and twisted to entrench their rule, introducing articles for life-long presidency. All these bad memories made the people who came out for the Kasbah sit-ins (after the Revolution) call for a constituent assembly to write a new constitution for a new Tunisia, and to start from a blank piece of paper. We wanted a new constitution, new institutions, new values, universal values, collective and individual rights and freedoms and social rights all to be part of the new Tunisia. Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 25
  25. 25. We have gone through a thorough process and dialogue to draft the new constitution. We consulted experts inside and outside Tunisia to learn from their expertise, such as the Max Planck Institute in Germany, the Westminster Forum for Democracy and others. We organized numerous seminars for the exchange of expertise. We held shared sessions with other parliaments and international bodies such as the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission. We listened to the input of experts and academics in constitutional law, some of whom had participated in democratic transitions elsewhere, such as Mr. Xavier Philippe who has become a friend of the Assembly and visits us often. We have also looked at many examples of constitutions from around the world and drawn on them for inspiration. However, the Tunisian experience is unique. We have the oldest trade union in Africa. We met with them when discussing social and labour rights and looked at more than 40 constitutional texts in this area. The deputies are organized into six constitutional committees: 1. Committee on the Framework of the constitution – which looks at the political content 2. Committee on Liberties and Freedoms 3. Committee on the Relationship between Executive and Legislative Powers 4. Committee on Judicial Powers 5. Committee on Regional Government – to promote decentralization and methods of more direct democracy 6. Committee on Constitutional Bodies – such as the Higher Authority for Elections, Authority for Audiovisual Media, etc. We have had extensive consultation with civil society through open days where we invited associations from around the country to participate. We organized a national dialogue where we visited every region in the country and even outside Tunisia and held open sessions with the public. We sent members of the Assembly to discuss with the public. Many NGOs gave us proposals and feedback and even whole draft constitutions. We took all their feedback and comments back to the drafting committees. The constitution has gone through four drafts - we are now in the final draft, which was ready in June and sent to the European Parliament, Venice Commission and other bodies. The Venice Commission has been following the constitution-drafting process very closely and I myself have visited them several times and attended their sessions. They discussed the draft constitution and praised it, giving their feedback and observations. We incorporated these into the latest draft. The drafting committee is now finalizing the last few points and will complete its work by next week. Then we will go to the plenary session where the articles will be voted on one by one. Question on the National Assembly exceeding its one-year mandate: Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 26
  26. 26. Thank you for this question – it gives me the opportunity to go into a topic I would not otherwise have gone into with honourable guests such as yourselves. This claim that the National Constituent Assembly is limited to one year is a big lie invented by the opposition who were not favoured by the ballot box in our first free and fair elections. When they failed in the elections they resorted to trying to limit the influence and powers of this body by spreading lies and then believing their own lies. Before the elections, a council existed called the Higher Council for the Achievement of the Aims of the Revolution which was formed out of the Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution – these were spontaneously formed by the people after the Revolution and organized themselves to protect the Revolution. It was our first experience of governance after a long period of repression. We felt frustrated not to be able to express ourselves and we had no freedom of association or expression. So after the Revolution we formed groups that were called the Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution. The Higher Council for the Achievement of the Aims of the Revolution came to push the Leagues to the side and exclude them from the political process. The Higher Council was headed by Dr. Iyadh ben Achour. The Council suggested, before the elections, that when the National Constituent Assembly would be formed, its mandate should be limited to one year. Not a single democratic transition in history has occurred in just one year. First, the Assembly was not even in existence when this suggestion to limit its mandate was made. Secondly, not all the members of the Council agreed to this suggestion to limit the mandate of the Assembly (the CPR party, for example, opposed it and proposed 3 years instead). Thirdly, not all the parties who are now in the Assembly were even members of the Council. Most importantly, how can the Council, an administrative body set up by an unelected unrepresentative interim government, limit the role of the highest elected body that represents the people’s sovereignty? This would not be allowed to happen in any democracy. The Assembly was elected in free and fair elections observed by observers from around the world including the EU, Carter Centre and many others. Furthermore, when the Assembly came to agree its internal rules through what is called the “mini-constitution” it was agreed that there was no limit on its duration. Therefore, this so-called agreement to limit the mandate of the Assembly to one year was a purely moral commitment by some parties, not a legal agreement, that was not even agreed on by all parties and was made by an administrative unrepresentative body. It was. The arguments presented by the opposition are utterly baseless, both legally and politically. Are we building a democracy based on the rule of law or not? If we want to do so, we need to respect the rule of law and its institutions. The law states that the Assembly is sovereign and there is nothing in law limiting its duration. Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 27
  27. 27. Meeting with Abderraouf Ayedi, President, Wafaa Party, Dr. Fathi Jeribi, Deputy President, Fedia Najjar, Head of Nabeul Branch First we must talk about the current political situation– there is a minority in the National Constituent Assembly who rejected the results of the elections. They accepted them at first, verbally, but soon began to oppose and delay the work of the Assembly, delaying sessions and working with those parties outside the Assembly to set up a parallel parliament. From the very first day, they set up tents outside the Assembly to protest its work and attack its legitimacy. We expected that after the Revolution, any national dialogue would be under the roof of the elected assembly, the National Constituent Assembly. This did not happen – the sessions of the Assembly reflected the ideological conflict between the members inside the Assembly. There is no discussion over the fundamental issues of important to a society in which the head of a corrupt regime has fallen but the remainder of it remains – its symbols, institutions and culture. We wanted a genuine political dialogue. There are clear agendas that are driving the national dialogue. The UGTT was in bed with the old regime for 60 years. The head of the UGTT’s 25-member leadership council was from the RCD (the former ruling party). Under the Ben Ali regime the UGTT benefitted from all the corruption and repression in Tunisia. Its General Secretary, Abdesslem Jrad, is implicated in many corruption cases – I myself lodged a case against him for stealing three plots of land with the help of the regime. Since the revolution, there have been 35,000 strikes. Tunisia has been deprived of 2 billion dinars of income because of strikes in the phosphate sector alone. Why have the unions now become so active after the revolution yet they were silent throughout more than 50 years of dictatorship? Nidaa Tounes has restored the ranks of the old regime – they are standing against all efforts to bring accountability for crimes under the former regime and Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 28
  28. 28. blocking the opening of archives that implicate them in corruption. They are now trying to rebuild the old regime that repressed Tunisians. Question regarding the role of the UGTT in leading the National Dialogue: We do not regard the National Dialogue to have clear aims – these are negotiations and not dialogue. Dialogue is an ongoing process. These are negotiations whose real aim is to restore the power of forces that the revolution came to remove from power. The UGTT has been part of these forces for 60 years – they know that if they become a real union, they would not have as much political power as they had by being part of the regime. They want to be a part of power. These negotiations are an attempt to grab power, to abort the revolution. Question regarding the position of Wafaa Party on current events: Wafaa and its members are against dictatorship. Our position is that we want Tunisia to become a democracy, where peaceful alternation of power is determined through the ballot box and free and fair elections. We requested dialogue before 14 January 2011. Together with other opposition parties, we held conferences in France, Germany and other places, to ask for a political dialogue in Tunisia which was then under dictatorship. Then the Revolution came with its aims of creating a democratic Tunisia. We held elections, which brought Ennahdha and other parties to power. We said the government has to give a programme to the people. We said the old regime has to be dismantled. Ennahdha has not fulfilled this – it has continued with the structures of the old regime. We hear people complaining that Ennahdha has not dismantled the networks of smuggling that were run by Ben Ali and is implicated in them now. We disagree with the government on many things but we support it as a legitimate government. Even if it had been Nidaa Tounes or the Popular Front that had won the elections, we would accept because of electoral legitimacy. Unfortunately the majority of those who did not succeed in the elections and those who are afraid of accountability are now forming a coalition against democracy. Ennahdha has given them the opportunity to breathe and expand, including the UGTT and UTICA. They are deeply implicated in the old regime – this has to be clear. Instead of these people being held accountable for their actions, they are now the ones dictating the terms of this National Dialogue. Those who were violating citizens’ rights under the old regime are now the ones leading this Dialogue! The UGTT, UTICA, LTDH, they did nothing to defend prisoners of conscience, victims of torture or those targeted by the old regime. We said on principle, we will oppose this Dialogue even if we are alone. We have a clear position – we have an elected national assembly. It is the only institution that can determine the direction of the country. We fought for democracy and we should respect it and allow it to take its course, through its institutions. The members of the opposition who left the assembly have wasted time – if they had not left, we would have been able to complete the constitution, the higher Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 29
  29. 29. election council and we would be on the way to democratic elections as a stable country. However, some have no desire for democracy. Question about why parties are sitting down with elements of the old regime and the trade unions: The UGTT is far from neutral. It is dominated by the Popular Front and nationalists. They do not have widespread popular support, so they use the union as a means to gain power and exercise control. The Communist Party think using union demands and protests can help them to build a popular base. The Nationalists, on the other hand, have an ideological conflict with Islamists. They support Bashar Al Assad, for example, in Syria and bitterly oppose the Tunisian Government’s declaration of support for the uprising in Syria. These two forces are very weak – their respective parties gained less than 1% of the vote in the elections. The UGTT has never been neutral. It has organized 35,000 strikes in the last two years alone to try to bring down the government. They are afraid of democracy because they do not want accountability, and to be exposed for being implicated in corruption. During their General Assembly in Tabarka after the Revolution where they elected a new committee, the small group who control the union made sure it did everything to stay in control of the union and prevent accountability even within the union. After the coup in Egypt, the UGTT openly supported the members of the National Constituent Assembly who left the Assembly and it has publicly supported the sit-ins outside the Assembly that called for it to be dissolved. They are clearly not neutral. This dialogue is a continuation of those protests – an attempt to grab power by any means. I am a professor and a member of the UGTT. Approximately 5-6% of Tunisian workers are members of the union. It organized itself as the decision-maker under the former regime and it insists on clinging on to its power. The democratic transition has become a struggle for power. We wanted to have a dialogue about the issues underlying the Revolution, not about power and how to divide it up. Some wanted us to leave the Assembly. There are some international players with influence who want to undermine this process. France has a big role and is very close to the UGTT and the old regime. The UGTT was behind the rise to power of Bourguiba and played a big role in helping him to build his power. Habib Achour, one of the founders of the UGTT, organised the congress of the Neo Destour Party (Bourguiba’s party) on 15 November 1955 in Sfax to support Bourguiba and ensured the high presence of trade unionists among the congress attendees. Again today the UGTT is playing the role of the kingmaker seeking to bring one side to power to restore its influence and maintain its control. Question regarding Wafaa’s stance and why it is not taking part in the National Dialogue: The political scene is not yet clear. We are not a big party – we have eight seats in the Assembly. Our position is that political dialogue should take place inside the Assembly, not on the street or in side meetings. We do not want to build parallel Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 30
  30. 30. institutions that undermine democracy. If we want democracy, we have to have and respect the institutions in which democratic dialogue takes place. The National Dialogue is now discussing candidates for Prime Minister – they are bringing people from museums [i.e. old] who are implicated in the acts of the old regime. One look at their record shows the number of economic, social and political portfolios they held under the former regime. This is not the result we want from the Revolution. The dialogue is over power sharing and who is in charge, not issues or programmes. None of the candidates has set out what they will do for the Tunisian people. If the dialogue had any relation to the realization of the aims of the Revolution, we would participate. We are planning a new parliamentary alliance with several other parties – the CPR, Tayyar al Mahabba and others. It will be the second biggest parliamentary grouping. Our position is that dialogue should be inside the National Constituent Assembly. We must respect the legitimacy and trust the people have given us. It is not for the UGTT to determine our political fate. The people gave their votes to political representatives who must look after the interests of the people. Question regarding the role international parties can play in finding a peaceful solution, as was the case in Northern Ireland: External parties never helped us before – the European Union, the US, Arab countries. They did not help us in the time of Ben Ali. We do not accept that they intervene now. Any foreign power has its own interests, something it wants to gain. If they were concerned for the Tunisian people, they would have helped us when we were suffering under dictatorship. We went on hunger strike in 2005 to protest against the brutal policies of Ben Ali and to demand democracy, freedom and the release of political prisoners. We met representatives of the European Commission – they said we support you, but three EU countries – Italy, France and Spain – are blocking any action. We have a bitter experience with foreign support – the former French President Jacques Chirac visited Tunisia in 2005. Rather than supporting those struggling for democracy he said, you should be happy that you are fed and clothed and have shelter. As if the Tunisian people are not worthy of freedom. We thank you, and if you would like to help, please help to tell the truth about Tunisia, which is not the image being promoted by French media such as France 24. It would also be helpful to have support in returning the money stolen from Tunisians by Ben Ali and his family, which amounts to 25billion dinars – equivalent to the entire annual budget of Tunisia. Delegation to Tunisia of UK and Irish Members of Parliament, 27-30 October 2013 31