Tunisian president hopes for reconciliation between secularism and Islamism

Moncef Marzouki speaks to Deutsche Welle

(PresseBox) ( Bonn, )
Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki has called for reconciliation between secularism and Islamism in his country and has criticized extremism on both sides. Tunisia's society is "divided into two parts: secular and conservative," the president said in an interview with Deutsche Welle. These two parts of society need to be "united."

The Tunisian government should represent both sides, adds Marzouki, who was elected interim president of Tunisia after the revolution in 2011. He is a member of the centre-left party Congress for the Republic.

According to Marzouki, political groups are hindering a peaceful transition in Tunisia: "They don't want this process to be fulfilled, they don't want this process to be peaceful, they don't want elections - they would like to provoke chaos." He specifically referred to "Jihadists, parts of the Salafist groups," but maintained that at the other end of the spectrum there are "secular extremists" who "don't want this transition to be peaceful, mainly for ideological reasons, because for them 'Islamist' means 'devil.' They don't want to hear anything about the fact that we are a Muslim country."

The assassination of secular opposition politician Chokri Belaid was a shock to him, he says: "We were very proud in Tunisia of having this very peaceful process of democratization, of transition. [...] I felt betrayed by the Islamist extremists, the Jihadists." At the same time, Marzouki once again criticized the secularists: "Sometimes I also feel betrayed by the extremists of the other side, because they are giving the image of a country in turmoil, and the press here in the West is relying mainly on what they say. So the image they are giving of Tunisia is not the real one."

On the whole, Marzouki thinks his country is on the right track. "We reached a consensus on the constitution and we think that the constitution will be finished in two months. And we are going to have elections between October and December. [...] Please remember that the transition in Portugal took more than eight years and in Spain more than three years. Tunisia will finish its own process in two years." He points out that this is impressive for a country without "any experience of leading a democratic process."

In Marzouki's opinion, more time is needed for the economic situation to improve: "We cannot do miracles. The situation is extremely tense because people are expecting everything - and now. We cannot do anything but explain to them that we are working hard to achieve the political process. This will stabilize the country and then we will be able to attract more investment." Tunisia could learn a thing or two from Germany about the importance of consensus, he added: "Here in Germany they know what consensus means, and they know how it's important not only at the political level but also at the social and economic level, between trade unions."
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