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Tunisia is today at a turning point with a real risk of spread of terrorism

Wahbi Jomaa, President of the National Board of Ettakatol party takes stock of Tunisia in these circumstances marked by the proliferation of terrorism. He considered that the formation of a national unity government emanates from the belief that the path of polarization is littered with threats to security and stability.

Interview:

Between political assassinations, terrorist acts and recent fatalistic speeches of leaders, how do you assess the situation especially since this kind of crime has heated up the atmosphere in Tunisia causing widespread concern for the future of the transition ?

After a series of verbal and physical violence often fed or at least inspired by speeches of intolerance and sometimes of hate, it is undeniable that Tunisia is today at a turning point with a real risk of proliferation of terrorism backed by a commitment to the destabilization of the democratic transition with abject political crimes to which Tunisians are not accustomed and are not ready to give up. Nothing indicates that these dangers are temporary. The almost daily discoveries of armed groups and weapons caches inspire only greater concern. The national unity proclaimed by all political actors but also of civil society is now the only response to this serious risk.

Tunisians accuse the ruling Troika of being behind this situation. What do you think of that, especially since the Ettakatol party is held responsible for this situation?

After a general feeling of an improvement in the security situation in Tunisia and an acknowledgement by all observers of the effectiveness of the Ministry of Interior, the recent acts of terrorism such as the political assassination of the late Mohamed Brahmi came to show us how this situation is still fragile. The government as well as the ruling coalition can only feel responsible facing this situation, because it is the role and duty of the executive to ensure the safety of all Tunisians.

Ettakatol, as a member of the coalition and also as a responsible political party, has always been aware of this responsibility as reflected by its incessant calls for combating both verbal and physical violence. This sense of responsibility goes as far as to become a kind of sense of guilt on the part of many of our activists, because as defenders of human rights, convinced humanists, human life is sacred. These calls were not often heard, but given the results, we have to admit that they have certainly not been sufficient, and it is up to us to be even firmer and more uncompromising.

It is this sense of responsibility that leads us to reiterate our call for a national unity government, a calling that we have already launched well before the elections, because we are convinced that, faced with a negative polarization and against this scourge of terrorism, only national unity can be a credible response. The government of national unity which must receive the consent of the unanimity or at least a large majority of politicians should set as a priority to remediate the security situation in order to finish this phase of democratic transition and to go to the general elections in the best conditions.

The gravity of the situation has prompted the opposition to observe a sit-in demanding the dissolution of the departure of the government of Ali Laaraeydh and the NCA. Moreover, a large number of opposition members have chosen to withdraw from the Constituent Assembly. What do you think of this withdrawal and especially the call for the dissolution of the current government, the NCA in particular?

For me it is important to differentiate between the two demands. First, the claim of “dissolution” of the government, there are two aspects, a call for changing the government which we are also calling for within Ettakatol order to achieve a national unity government, but there are also a demand for an immediate resignation prior to any discussion and any negotiation. For technical reasons related to the law organizing the provisional government, the latter demand is meaningless. Indeed, the law organizing the provisional government provides that the party with the largest number of seats (i.e. Ennahdha) proposes within 3 days after the resignation of the government the name of a personality to head the new government and that the latter has 15 days to propose to the president the lineup of the new government. Are these deadlines compatible with the search for a consensus composition that may have the consent of a large majority of political parties in order to aspire to a true government of national unity? I absolutely do not believe it. It is urgent that everyone sits at the negotiating table to agree on a new government lineup, the resignation of the government will then come naturally. In order not to perpetuate this situation, the participants in the dialogue must impose a maximum period prior to completing the negotiations. During these phases of dialogue, the government must still work hard and fulfill its mission, especially in the fight against violence and against terrorism.

The dissolution of the NCA is not only an inadequate response to the situation, but it is also dangerous. First, the demand seems strange coming from elected officials who were entrusted the task of writing a new constitution. This capitulation just seems to be an escape from the responsibilities and a way to clear themselves and wanting to hold others responsible. In addition, the demand for the dissolution of the NCA is dangerous because it just leads us into the unknown, to the constitutional vacuum and is simply a setback in the democratic transition. If, through this demand, its initiators want to consciously or unconsciously erase or forget the results of the October 23, 2011 election, they make a huge mistake. But above all, the question is simply “to what extent the demand for the dissolution of the NCA is a relevant and effective response to the plight of Tunisia?” I confess that in all speeches of politicians, I have not had an answer to this question.

When you know that on the eve of the cowardly assassination of the late Mohamed Brahmi The Compromise Committee had reached agreements on such an important chapter as the “rights and freedoms,” when we know that this Committee needed 3 to 4 days to complete its work, given that the remaining number of points of disagreement is small, when we read the report of the Venice Commission on the draft of the Tunisian Constitution, we are in a position to ask all of NCA elected members to finish this noble mission as fast as possible, today we have the opportunity to “offer” a constitution of which we are proud and you and your children will be proud too.

Despite the existence of a majority qualified to continue work within the NCA, despite strong pressure from some deputies who rightfully demands the continuation of their work, Mustapha Ben Jaafar today takes a courageous decision to freeze the activities of the NCA until the return of political actors to the dialogue table, because he is aware that it would be unethical to continue the work on the constitution without part of the deputies who have done much to make this constitution be really just like all Tunisians and not the result and the image of a majority and a minority. He thus affirms the role of the ANC and his personal role in the preservation of national unity. The deputies, who have announced their withdrawal from the work of the NCA, today have an opportunity to return to the NCA with their head held high. They now have an opportunity to implement the agreements reached during the last phases of the national dialogue, but also get more advanced ones so that the text of the constitution will be truly progressive in line with the expectations of all Tunisians.

They have the opportunity to quickly establish an Independent Higher Authority for the Elections that must swiftly get to work by building on the achievements of the former ISIE to propose and confirm the dates for the next general elections. They now have the opportunity to put in place a fair electoral law and able to promote political plurality. They have the opportunity to put in place as soon as possible a law on transitional justice as expected by Tunisians and which remains an urgent need for democratic transition and to move towards national reconciliation.

In my turn, I appeal to the deputies who have announced their withdrawal from the work of the ANC, many of whom are political friends, some of whom are my personal friends: “Assume your responsibility, you will come out grown up, your place is in the Assembly, your place is at the table of dialogue.”

To deal with the crisis, Ettakatol, one of the allies of Ennahdha, advocates a national unity government, responsible for improving the socio-economic situation and activate the transitional justice. For some observers, the aim of this initiative, which already demonstrates the failure of the current government, is only to stay in power. What is your analysis?

Our position on a national unity government is constant and was announced just before the elections and comes from our critical reading of this crucial moment for the future of Tunisia. We had already said publicly and explicitly, on 15 October 2011.our call for a government of national interest comes from the belief that the path of polarization is littered with threats to security and stability. Our participation in a coalition government is the expression of that conviction and a sense of responsibility that characterizes Ettakatol and its leaders. Our call today for a national unity government is perfectly in line with the same conviction, and we hope today that all political leaders will embrace it. Participating in the governance of the country in these difficult times is not easy, but it is the obligation of all to put the national interest above partisan electoral interests. Tunisians, themselves responsible, will give reason to those who, despite their shortcomings, have agreed to assume their responsibilities.

Between a ruling Troika that is attached to the legitimacy and the opposition which warns against this issue, Tunisia is moving to a new crisis of legitimacy, especially with the massacre of eight Tunisian soldiers in an ambush in Mount Chaambi. In such a situation, do you think the worst is yet to come?

Is it a legitimacy crisis or a confidence crisis? I personally believe in a very severe confidence crisis. It is a crisis of confidence between political actors who accuse each other of bad intentions. But there is also and above all a crisis of confidence on the part of citizens who are impatient and would like to see any doubt about the end of this phase transition be lifted and who no longer have confidence in all dates and advanced scheduling and it is urgent to remove, perhaps by law, any doubt about it.

It is a crisis of confidence in the face of images of political assassinations and abject massacres of our brave soldiers when doubt settles on Tunisia’s ability to deal with these dangers, but also on the political will of the government and the leading party in power to firmly confront this scourge and not find excuses for the enemies of Tunisia. The unanimous affirmation of the will to confront these risks is an obligation and urgency.

Hiding behind the legitimacy not to assume responsibility or calling for the end of a real legitimacy of the NCA to exempt oneself from responsibility are two answers utterly out of step with the demands of the moment. Showing one’s strength by organizing public meetings with a surreal battle of figures is also an inappropriate response. The moment requires instead self-control and sending to the Tunisian people a message of serenity and firmness against the real threat of terrorism. Today more than ever, we must stand together with our police and our soldiers for this fight which we will win very soon. They now have much to do to secure the entire Tunisian territory against our real enemies, and it is not by involving them in securing each other’s demonstrations that we will help to quickly win the battle .

According to you, is Tunisia preparing to face a terrorist cycle?

The risk is real, all local indicators, but also in the region show it. But Tunisia has all the means to address it. We need firmness, political will and a strong support to the command of our armed forces.

As President of the National Board of Ettakatol, what would be the best scenario out of the rut?

As is often said, our only destiny is dialogue to end the transition. This is not a slogan, but a deep conviction. Ending the current phase as soon as possible will allow Tunisia to quickly enter in a stage of greater political stability. This stability is synonymous with trust where both Tunisian and foreign entrepreneurs can invest in the Tunisian economy and the State should work for real reform of our tax, social and economic system in order to promote the creation of skilled jobs for our graduates. May all politicians come together today for this vital mission. May each one contribute to the success of this phase? No one has the absolute truth, but together we will be able to get there. Soon the time will come when we will compete each other, each of us with his project for his vision of a better future for Tunisia, and the Tunisian people, alone, will be able to choose and decide between projects.

Let us give ourselves the means of this ambition and only a national unity government reassuring everyone and setting as priority the success of future elections may be the answer. The success of future elections requires a seamless support to the work of the ISIE and confidence in the neutrality of the administration, but also neutrality of places of worship.

The revision of a number of appointments especially in the governorates and delegations is required. Firmness on the side of the Ministry of Religious Affairs is not an option, but a real obligation. In parallel, the security environment must be cleaned, and this starts with a flawless fight against violence against all militias from all sides and a call for all politicians to spread voices of reason in television studios and radios, inside the Constituent Assembly and also in public meetings.

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