We, in Tunisia, are in a war against terrorism and radicalisation. It’s a war between the culture of life and the culture of death, bloodshed and barbarism; a Battle for freedom, dignity and future generations. My country is calling for joint international efforts and reinforced cooperation to fight and defeat terrorism and violent extremism.
Foreign tourists in Tunisia were targeted by extremists last summer. Back then, your prime minister said in parliament that the goal of those extremists was to destabilise the country and destroy its economy. What are the consequences of these threats a year after they happened?
– Tourism is an important sector and a key driver of our economy. It contributes to around seven per cent of our GDP and provides a great deal for employment and social development, engaging more than 400,000 people. Driving tourists away is aimed at destroying the economy. Since security is a key precondition for the development of tourism everywhere, the Tunisian Government has made safety its top priority. Thus, it has thoroughly reviewed and enhanced security procedures. Tunisian security forces have retaken the initiative in combating and preventing terrorism. Real and tangible progress has been made in boosting security readiness and efficiency in addressing terrorist threats.
The United Nations declared last year that over 5,000 Tunisian citizens had joined terrorist organisations in the Middle East. How is Tunisia defending itself against the pressures from ISIS (Da’esh) and other extremist organisations?
– Individual Tunisians, like many others across the world, have joined the so-called Islamist State, but the number of Tunisians is frankly exaggerated, since many of these jihadits were holders of fake Tunisian passports. The appeal of jihadist elements is very limited in Tunisia, relying mainly on support from regional and international jihadist movements. Anyway, the challenges are the same everywhere, as the world is witnessing increasing acts of hate crimes and terrorism in many countries.
In Tunisia, we have moved against terrorism with new determination and have achieved many successes. The legal framework has been strengthened to fight terrorism. We are preventing and tackling terrorism and radicalisation not only with security solutions and military actions, but also by reinforcing the values of democracy and the respect for human rights, by implementing plans and programmes for balanced and fair regional social and economic development. Along with these measures, employment, mainly of the youth, is among the government’s priorities. The first stage of the National Dialogue on Employment in Tunis led to the 29th March 2016 adoption of the Tunis Declaration for Employment as a short-, medium- and long-term roadmap to address the challenges of unemployment. This also encompasses women empowerment and promotion of the culture of tolerance, for which various programmes have been devised. In the same framework, the government is investing in education and reforming its curricula as a key to engaging the youth in countering violent extremism. Many youth and civil society initiatives and programmes are now being implemented in an effort to halt extreme ideologies. I would also like to stress the special focus on the contribution of media and communication.
Terrorists will continue to try to undermine the Tunisian model, but Tunisia will persevere in forging its democratic destiny and fulfilling its promise. Ultimately, that is to prevent young people from losing their bearings and drifting towards extremism.
Tourism is an important sector and a key driver of our economy. It contributes to around seven per cent of our GDP and provides a great deal for employment and social development, engaging more than 400,000 people
Europe is going through a migrant crisis, but sometimes we forget the fact that countries like Tunisia have been dealing with a huge influx of refugees for many years. What is the current situation like?
– In early 2011, while deeply involved in dealing with the aftermath of its own revolution, Tunisia opened its borders to hundreds of thousands of Libyans and foreign migrant workers fleeing violence in Libya. The total number of migrants and refugees the country hosted was close to 1.8 million. Despite the economic difficulties and the fact that Tunisians had not previously experienced this kind of challenge, the Tunisian Authorities managed, in collaboration with the IMO and with the support mainly of the Tunisian Red Crescent, the UNHCR and other countries, and the solidarity of the Tunisian local population, to provide this huge number of refugees with shelter, food, healthcare facilities… We also had to deal with the return of around 100,000 Tunisians who had been working in Libya. The task was not easy. Today, the Tunisian authorities are dealing with a few hundred migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan African countries that cannot be repatriated and whose demands for asylum are denied in third countries.
Shortly after the revolution, many young Tunisians fled the country for economic reasons and arrived in Italy, which provoked crisis at that time. In 2012 Tunisia and Italy signed a technical agreement to tackle illegal immigration in the Mediterranean. Since then our Naval forces, which are now better equipped for maritime border control, have contributed to dramatically reducing the numbers of people who tried to cross the Mediterranean illegally. The Tunisian Coast Guard has rescued hundreds of illegal migrants sailing from neighbouring Libya.
At the national level, migration is one of the top issues of the government and is included in its priorities. Important measures have been taken and implemented, such as the adoption of a national five-year migration development strategy (2015-2020) to consolidate good governance in the management of migratory flows, prevent illegal migration, promote the organised immigration of Tunisians and to enhance the contribution of our nationals abroad, to aid the socio-economic development of the country. This strategy also provides for the protection of foreign migrants and asylum seekers in Tunisia. A draft bill on the right of asylum in Tunisia will be discussed by the House of People’s Representatives (HPR).
Tunisia and the EU, along with ten of its Member States, signed the Declaration on Mobility Partnership in March 2014, in an effort to enhance political dialogue on migrations with neighbouring countries to the south. We firmly believe that the priorities in terms of mobility should be focused on the correlation between migration and solidarity development and employment.
The Nobel Committee last year decided that the Nobel Peace Prize was to be awarded to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet in recognition of the democratic forces in Tunisia. How was that received in Tunisia?
– The awarding of the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize to four Tunisian civil society organisations for their “decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011” represents international recognition of the value of this unique experience. The Quartet was instrumental in paving the way for the adoption of a New liberal Constitution that expanded civil liberties, and in the organisation of free, fair and democratic Parliamentary and Presidential elections in 2014. Following these major achievements, Tunisia concluded its political transition peacefully and the Government of the Second Republic took office in February 2015. Tunisia has earned rapid recognition as the best case of post- Arab Spring success; a fledgling democracy enjoying civil liberties, political moderation and inclusion. The Tunisian people and all the Tunisian stakeholders, including a vibrant civil society, are committed to strengthening the country’s democratic processes. Let me here once more express our great appreciation for Serbia’s continuous support to Tunisia.
Beyond the Quartet, the Nobel Peace prize is a tribute to the Tunisian model of peace, dialogue, consensus and unwavering democratic aspirations.
We are laying the foundations for a free and prosperous market economy, in order to bolster strong growth and balanced regional development, as well as creating opportunities and jobs
In which direction is Tunisia heading following the 2014 elections and what are the biggest challenges being faced by the Tunisian authorities, with President Mohamed Beji Caid Essebsi and Prime Minister Habib Essid at the helm? Critics say that representatives of the old regime are making a comeback to the governing structure.
– Obviously, the success of the political transition in Tunisia could not hide the economic, social and security challenges the country is facing. The Tunisian Authorities devote their efforts to achieving the country’s set objectives, namely the consolidation of our democratic institutions and the revival of our economic growth, development, the fight against terrorism and a better future for the Tunisian people.
Besides the fight against terrorism, the Tunisian Government has also taken the lead in meeting Tunisia’s economic and social challenges. It is pressing ahead with a package of economic reforms to create a better environment for business and investment, in order to energise growth and satisfy the urgent demand for jobs, mainly for its unemployed youth. We are laying the foundations for a free and prosperous market economy, in order to bolster strong growth and balanced regional development, as well as creating opportunities and jobs. But in order to meet these challenges Tunisia’s emerging democracy requires significant international support and solidarity to confront its new challenges. My country is calling on its friends and traditional partners to provide more tangible assistance to support the socio-economic development upon which Tunisia has embarked. As mentioned in the European Commission’s press release dated 31st July 2015, “a strong and democratic Tunisia is vital for the stability of Europe”.
When it comes to the fight against terrorism, the cowardly and horrific attacks that targeted Tunisia were a desperate reaction by Islamist terrorists to the determination of the Tunisian people to move forward in building its democracy, a model of an open society sharing with other democratic countries the values of freedom, democracy and respect for human rights.
The Tunisian people chose, in 2014’s free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections, their representatives in the Assembly of the Representatives of the People (Parliament) and elected Mr Beji Caid Essebsi as the new President of the Republic. Tunisia’s parliament overwhelmingly approved the first Government of Prime Minister Habib Essedi in February 2015, and also again in January 2016, following a partial reshuffle of his cabinet.
In other respects, the President of the Republic has submitted to Parliament a draft bill on all-inclusive national reconciliation in Tunisia, to involve all Tunisians in coping with the economic and social challenges. However, as noted by President Beji Caid Essebsi, this reconciliation does not mean clearing anyone who embezzled state funds and who should be brought to justice for their actions.
Our mutually beneficial cooperation has to expand in scale and scope. Tunisia and Serbia have high potential and we have to bring out our comparative advantages
In which way can the severaldecades- long friendship between our two countries evolve into more solid economic cooperation?
– We are committed together to enhancing our economic cooperation and trade exchanges, as well as optimising existing opportunities in a win-win sprit. This objective could be reached, amongst others, by supporting the private sector and encouraging the business communities, encouraging companies from both sides to participate in exhibitions and fairs held in both countries, and facilitating economic missions seeking to explore the potential for strengthening bilateral and sustainable trade, particularly in goods, agri-food and services. Our mutually beneficial cooperation has to expand in scale and scope. Tunisia and Serbia have high potential and we have to bring out our comparative advantages.
It has been announced that Tunisia and Serbia could sign an intergovernmental agreement on investment incentives and investment protection in order to facilitate faster development of economic cooperation. Do you know when that will happen and what is the importance of such a document?
– Both sides are working to expand the legal framework of our cooperation. The draft agreement on investment incentives and investment protection, once signed, will be an important instrument intended to broaden and foster economic cooperation and trade. Many other draft agreements covering fields such as air services, defence and vocational training are ready for signing during the forthcoming session of the joint committee that is due to be held in Tunis, hopefully during 2016.