Tunis—In a wide ranging interview to independent Tunisian
President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali answered a variety of questions
involving the promotion of human rights, democratization and the state
of Tunisian media. In a particularly frank interview, he addressed
several domestic and foreign policy issues.
In the wake of the vote by the Tunisia Chamber of deputies of a bill
further protecting press freedoms, he called anew on the media to be
more daring and enterprising.
Do write on any subject you
choose. There are no taboos except what is prohibited by law and press
ethics, he said.
He said that the press should contribute
to the changing of the
mentalities of people, including some officials, who have to learn to
welcome and tolerate criticism and that
one of the functions of
criticism is to facilitate progress.
The Tunisia leader also emphasized
the importance of the role of
the opposition press in the future of democracy and the development of
a pluralistic society in Tunisia.
He called upon political parties to
increase their own capabilities
and resources in order to ensure the continued publication of their
papers, to broaden their circulation base, and thus guarantee their
All the country’s six opposition parties publish their own newspapers and receive state subsidy towards that end. But only one the parties publishes its newspaper with relative regularity.
Asked about the criticism made by some that
democratic experience is too slow in achieving political
pluralism, he said
democracy and pluralism for me are an
irreversible choice and an unavoidable process. This process will be
strengthened and further advanced in the future. We will continue
picking up its pace.
He described the charge of slowness of the democratic process as
unrealistic. He said,
we may differ in our assessment of the
pace of progress but it is misleading to ignore what we have achieved
thus far toward establishing pluralism in Tunisia and expanding
freedoms as a basis for any democracy.
In an answer to a question whether the administration is hindering
free access to the internet , he noted that the number of users of the
web has reached 320,000 in four years,
an indicator of progress
placing Tunisia at the forefront of African nations in this
field. He added that
unfortunately not all web sites on the
internet are committed to the basic moral rules which are at the basis
of society. a number of these are licentious, others call for breaking
the law and committing various types of crimes, others still express
extremist views and advocate hatred and violence. He explained
that Tunisia’s approach
lies essentially in guiding families
and raising their awareness about the benefits and the risks inherent
in a number of sites.
As to the declared wishes by some to seek authorization for new
political parties and organizations, he said that
those who respect
the Constitution and laws of the land are welcome and added,
there is no political
veto nor will to exclude or ban
anyone. If there are any such difficulties, we will address them.
In an answer to a question about the situation of human rights in
Tunisia, he highlighted the
steady progress made in this regard
and which, he said,
will be further enhanced and consolidated in
He denounced however
the use of human rights as a pretext,
particularly to feed malicious smear campaigns.. by some who have
mortgaged their conscience to serve certain quarters outside their
country. But Tunisia is not a paper republic.
He added that
the door to dialogue will remain open to all those
wishing to actively contribute to the progress and invulnerability of
Responding to the charge by some foreign media that human rights
activists were harassed in Tunisia, he said it
is unreasonable to
generalize or dramatize any individual abuse that may occur, and
automatically accuse all the State bodies and institutions. Whenever
there is evidence of abuse, we have made sure those responsible are
made accountable. He added that,
it is a fundamental duty for
such activists to contribute to making the respect of the law a common
behavior in everyday life.
as happens in any other human society, nobody could state
that in Tunisia there are no excesses or cases of abuse of power. But
these are fairly rare, isolated cases which we have always
unhesitatingly curbed by legal means.
Answering a question about the lawsuit which has led to the
invalidation of the last human rights league congress, he said
LTDH remains a national asset and
the authorities had nothing
to do with the recent crisis of the League, contrary to what some have
implied. He expressed his belief that
the judiciary should
decide on the issue and that
all parties have to respect the
law pending the ruling of the court on this issue.
He also reiterated his faith in the Maghreb Union.
I am so much
convinced that there is no other alternative to the strategic option
of the Maghreb Union. this union is an economic as well as social and
political necessity that our Maghreb cannot do without.
He expressed his
conviction that the Maghreb Union is on the way of
fully recovering its health and. . .that a Maghreb summit will be held
in the near. . .all the leaders of the union are animated by the same
true will and immutable faith about our common destiny.
Addressing the plight of the Palestinian people, he said
will remain a permanent and strong supporter of Arab causes and a
relentless advocate of the cause of the Palestinian people. Besides
the assistance in kind that we provided the Palestinian people with,
we have transferred an immediate financial contribution to support the
victims of the intifadha.
He also noted that
a just, permanent and global peace has always
been our strategic option without losing sight of any one of our Arab
rights. saving the peace process is the responsibility of the
international community and the united states in particular. This
would involve most of all putting Israel under the obligation of
respecting the resolutions of international legality, observing the
signed treaties, and accepting the peace-for-land principle.
Regarding inter-Arab relations, he said Tunisia will carry on with
its contribution towards the achievement of a deeper and global
Arab reconciliation with all due perseverance and belief.
We have in mind an Arab reconciliation that will get over the remainders of division and dissidence and recover the unity of the Arab countries for the sake of our mutual interests and with a view to fostering the position worthy of the Arab nations in the international arena.
Regarding the possible risks involved in signing a few years ago an
association agreement with the European Union which makes Tunisia part
of the economic fabric of Europe by 2007, he said by doing so
were not so much jumping into the unknown as we were following a
concerted strategy. I am optimistic about opening our trade and
economic borders and I am not in any way anxious about partnership
with the European Union.
Speaking about the status of Tunisia’s relations with France, he
said such ties
are as solid as the historical and geographic ties
which bring the two nations together. therefore, they are not
destabilized or affected by the attempts of some selfishly-motivated