Commission on Security & Cooperation in Europe: U.S. Helsinki Commission
Elections and Political Transition in Tunisia
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
Director for North Africa,
National Democratic Institute
Tunisian American Young Professionals
The Hearing Was Held From 9:30 a.m. to 10:45 in Room B-318, Rayburn House
Office Building, Washington, D.C.,
[Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN), CSCE], Moderating
Date: Thursday, October 13, 2011
REPRESENTATIVE STEVE COHEN (D-TN): Good morning. I want to welcome everybody
to this briefing this morning. I am pleased to participate in this very timely
Helsinki Commission briefing and to learn first-hand from experts about the
upcoming elections in Tunisia and the process of political transition
undertaken since the revolution that shook not only Tunisia but the entire
region – the Arab Spring started there, continues in Northern Africa, and all
from one person standing up, in his own way, speaking truth to power – a very
difficult way to do it, but it was an effective way, and the whole Northern
Africa world changed.
Our discussions this morning will also be very helpful in my capacity to me as
an observer of these elections on October 23, Sunday, in conjunction with the
election observation mission of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europe, better known as OSCE.
In the first elections following the overthrow of longtime President Zine El
Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisians will cast their ballots for a transitional National
Constitution (sic) Assembly, which will be charged with drafting a new
constitution and preparing for presidential and parliamentary elections. More
than l00 parties, most of them newly created, along with independents, are
competing for 218 seats in this constitutional assembly.
Ben Ali’s departure was greeted by widespread euphoria within Asia – Tunisia,
excuse, within Tunisia. However, disputes over reform priorities, political
instability, economic crisis, labor unrest and lingering insecurity are
continuing challenges. The humanitarian impact of refugee flows from Libya
presents additional difficulties. Entire Northern Africa area, the economic
problems are what gave birth to the Spring and will (allow this ?) –
unfortunately will continue the Spring because those problems won’t be solved
Despite many political and economic characteristics shared across the region,
Tunisia exhibits a number of unique attributes: It has a relatively small
territory, a sizable and highly educated middle class and a long history of
encouraging women's socioeconomic freedoms. These factors have led some
analysts to state that Tunisia is the best-placed country in the region to
successfully undergo a democratic transition, and that conversely, if it can't,
this could have dire implications for the other countries such as Egypt and
Today we’ll examine a range of issues impacting the elections and the future of
Tunisia and the region, including: management and transparency of the
electoral process; stability and security before, during and after the
elections; the potential shape of the new political order; and the economic
development necessary for long-term stability and the consolidation of
We have an impressive group of experts with us this morning to discuss these
Steve McInary (ph) is – McInerney?
STEVE MCINERNEY: McInerney.
REP. COHEN: McInerney, yeah – that consonant in there.
He’s executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy and has more
than six years of experience in the Middle East, including graduate studies in
Middle Eastern politics, history, and the Arabic language at American
University of Beirut and the American University in Cairo. He has written
extensively on Middle Eastern politics and U.S. foreign policy and appeared on
numerous media outlets including BBC, MSNBC, Al Jazeera and CBS News. He
developed an interest in the Middle East while teaching mathematics in Qatar
after earning an M.S. in math from Stanford.
Barrie Freeman is director for North Africa at the National Democratic
Institute. She previously served as NDI deputy regional director for Central
and West Africa, where she managed a diverse portfolio of country programs
across the region that included support to electoral processes, civil society
development, legislative strengthening and political party development. Prior
to joining NDI in 2002, Ms. Freeman spent 15 years with the U.S. State
Department, working in the political, economic and consular sections of U.S.
embassies in Tunisia, Morocco and Nigeria. She is the co-author of
“Transparency and Accountability in Africa's Extractive Industries: The Role
of the Legislature” and has been a contributing writer to “Freedom in the
World,” an annual survey of civil liberties published by Freedom House. A
graduate of Tulane University, a member of Conference USA, Ms. Freeman
completed her master’s coursework at Georgetown University. Welcome.
Mohamed Malouche is a founding member and current president of Tunisian
American Young Professionals and has been presenting Tunisia's economic value
proposition to exporters and investors in the U.S., and leading the development
of an entrepreneurship culture in Tunisia through mentorship, technical and
financial support. Mohamed is also, well, at the same time as being a member
of the Young Professionals, he’s a senior manager – you got all bases covered –
with Deloitte Consulting in the telecom industry. And in 2002 he founded
PromoTunisia, a services company that offers cultural trips to Tunisia for U.S.
travelers and promotes Tunisia as an investment destination in the Information
and Communication Technologies sector. He is currently working with Penn State
University and the State Department on a U.S.-Tunisia partnership for the
promotion of technology innovation and commercialization strategies in
engineering research and education. Mohamed holds an MBA from Telecom Paris
South (sic) in France, and a master’s in telecommunications from Michigan State
We will begin with Mr. McInairney (ph) – McInerny – McInerny.
MR. MCINERNEY: Thank you, Congressman, and thank you for inviting me and thank
you for holding this event on elections that I think are extremely important,
not only for Tunisia but for the entire region.
You know, as you mentioned, of course, Tunisia is where the Arab Spring
revolutions began, and I think the entire region will be watching very closely
to see the outcome of these elections, not so much the outcome in terms of
which parties are successful, but to what degree these elections are viewed as
credible and as a step towards consolidating Tunisia’s democracy.
I was in Tunisia for two weeks in August and it’s quite an exciting moment
there in many respects. I think in – by almost every measure, the progress in
Tunisia during this transitional period is further along and going more
smoothly toward possible transition to democracy than in Egypt. There’s sort
of a natural comparison with Egypt, of course, because, you know, less than
four weeks – or exactly four weeks after Ben Ali stepped down, President
Mubarak stepped down in Egypt. Since that time, I think we’ve seen – you know,
in Tunisia, we’ve seen much steadier progress. We’ve seen political parties
mobilizing and really focusing on these elections much more so than in Egypt.
We see – you don’t see the same kind of heavy-handed interference by the
military in Tunisia that we see in Egypt.
And I would say that these elections, in many respects, are more pivotable –
more pivotal and more important to Tunisia’s transition than the elections in
Egypt. After Egypt’s upcoming parliamentary elections, the military council
will still remain in charge; they’ll still be the executive. In Tunisia, you
know, you don’t have that. What you have is a relatively weak sort of
technocratic cabinet and government that’s now in charge that seems genuinely
to have priority of getting to these elections and getting a legitimate – a
legitimately elected transitional National Constituent Assembly in place.
Now, I will – I will add, you know, there are – there are some dangers that –
you know, there are some risks that we should be aware of. Expectations in
Tunisia are quite high, and the population now is rather patient. You know, I
think, you know, a lot of the economic ills in Tunisia have not been addressed.
Unemployment is extremely high. But there is – there is a sense – there has
been a sense for several months now that these problems will be addressed after
the elections. I think there is a risk that the constituent assembly, after
elections, will not be able to produce the kind of results the Tunisian people
want as quickly as the expectations may be.
There’s also a real possibility of there being gridlock in this constituent
assembly. The electoral laws it set up will very likely result in a – in a
constituent assembly that includes a very large number of parties. As you
mentioned, you know, more than 100 parties have been formed in Tunisia this
year, and, you know, there will be dozen of parties represented, most likely,
in the constituent assembly. While on one hand, it’s very important that, you
know, many different segments of Tunisia’s political society will be
represented in this assembly, on the other hand, having so many parties at the
table will make, you know, progress – could make progress difficult and could
be difficult to reach a consensus and move forward.
There are also some ambiguity and some lack of clarity on exactly what the role
of the constituent assembly will be. It’s clear that this assembly – you know,
its primary task will be to write Tunisia’s new constitution. In addition to
that, however, they are expected to appoint most likely an interim president,
an interim cabinet that will guide Tunisia during the next stage of its
transition. But there are some questions, and there – and in – among many of
the Tunisian population, there’s a lot of – there’s some lack of clarity on
exactly what the steps will be.
And there’s some disagreement among some of the parties over not only, you
know, what the makeup of such a cabinet will be but whether they should even
take those steps. The role beyond writing the constitution, the role of the
constituent assembly, is not perfectly well-defined legally. So there should
be – there could be some questions in that regard.
One thing that I think is important is – as Americans, to recognize – is that
the – there is – there does seem to be a real consensus in Tunisia among a wide
variety of parties – you know, whether secular or Islamist, leftist, liberal
parties – that they would like to see a stronger relationship with the West and
a stronger relationship with the United States. I think – and I think that
that’s important. And that’s also different from many of the other Arab
countries, including Egypt, where there’s lots of resistance and pushback to
American support and the relationship with the United States.
I think all actors in Tunisia would like to see more support from the United
States. I think – I got a sense, when I was in Tunisia, that a lot of
Tunisians sort of feel as though they’ve been forgotten and sort of abandoned
by the international community; that they were, you know, the first revolution
of the Arab Spring, but since then, sort of the international attention that
they were – and support that they felt like they were promised in January and
February has sort of been forgotten and that there has been a shift of
attention as the international community has looked to Libya and Syria and
And, you know, I think it’s very important that if these elections go smoothly
and are viewed as credible, I think it’s very important to see that the
Tunisians see international support – and including from the United States.
You know, there’s also a real need for investment to increase in Tunisia. And
I think if there are, you know, visible – there – I think there are lots of
steps that the U.S. could take to demonstrate visible support for the
transition and confidence in the country after the elections – confidence that
hopefully could help translate into investor confidence that could help, you
know, turn Tunisia’s economy back in the right direction. As you mentioned in
your opening remarks, Tunisia does have many advantages over many of its
neighbors in North Africa in terms of a more highly educated population, a very
strong middle class and sort of an economic fundamentals, you know, underlying
their economy that are much stronger than any other country’s in North Africa.
However, in the short term, you know, Tunisia is facing, you know, an economic
crisis that helped bring about the revolution at the beginning of this year,
but it also has been exacerbated by it. You know, they – investment has fled
the country due to this sort of instability brought about by this year’s
changes. In addition, tourism has been one of the pillars of Tunisia’s economy
and their tourist season this summer was essentially wiped out as, you know,
European tourists were sort of, you know, watching and cautious and reluctant
to go to Tunisia as they have in the past.
I would add also that – you mention the fact that Tunisia is a relatively small
country. And I think it’s important to, you know, recognize that in – when we
have a relatively constrained budget environment here in the United States,
that a relatively modest amount of resources and support for Tunisia can have a
significant effect. And, you know, beyond assistance, the administration has
been working in different ways to provide assistance for Tunisia. You know, I
think there are many other steps that I could maybe go into in the
question-answer period that the U.S. can take to demonstrate support for these
With that, I’ll turn over to other speakers. Thanks.
REP. COHEN: Thank you very much. Ms. Freeman?
BARRIE FREEMAN: Congressman Cohen, thank you very much for this opportunity to
speak today. I’ve got prepared remarks that have some background, so I’ll try
to kind of cut as I go along so that this is not too long.
I think it’s important just to note that this elections on October 23rd is just
one step in what will be a longer-term transition process. You know, the
voters will be going to the polls to elect a 218-member constituent assembly.
And as – been noted, it’ll be responsible for several key tasks that will, I
think, over the long run, shape democratic culture in Tunisia, and that is –
and drafting the new constitution; naming a new government, including a
president and prime minister; and putting in place preparations for legislative
and presidential elections within one year. Now, some of this is still not
clear and could change, I think, on October 24th. No one’s quite sure what
will – what will – what Tunisia will look like on October 24th.
But that said, this is a tall order in a country in the midst of unprecedented
political change, moving from a tightly controlled authoritarian regime to a
multiparty democracy in less than a year. In the months since Ben Ali left
power, a political transition took root in Tunisia that has been largely
controlled and managed by new institutions with little input from the citizens
who drove him from power. The upcoming elections will give Tunisians their
first opportunity to participate in the democratic process in the polling booth
rather than on the streets.
And I think the recourse to the streets is also something to bear in mind
because I think throughout these months, when the public has been angry about
something, you know, that’s where they go: They don’t necessarily go to these
transitional institutions; they go out on the streets. And public protests led
to the resignation of the first two interim governments.
The current transitional government shifted course in March and deferred to
2012 the planned-for presidential elections in favor of elections for a
constituent assembly to revise the constitution. Newly created institutions
took on key roles, including the High Commission for the Fulfillment of the
Goals of the Revolution, Political Reform and Democratic Transition. This High
Commission drafted their electoral law based on proportional representation,
which is, I think, really intended to send a – send a message that this should
be as inclusive an election as possible, with stipulations requiring 50/50
gender parity on candidate lists – the list should have to go, you know, male,
female, male, female – and forbidding key members of the former ruling party
from participating in the electoral process.
The transitional government created Tunisia's first independent electoral
commission, the 16-member Instance supérieure indépendante pour les elections –
it’s known as – everybody just refers to it as ISIE – and it’s a big departure
from the past when the ministry of the interior ran all aspects of the
election. But despite the fact that the ISIE has overall responsibility for
the process, it is widely suspected with some concern that the interior
ministry is playing a much larger role behind the scenes and certainly in all
the operational aspects of the election.
The technical challenges of organizing this election – including the need to
revise and update voter lists — led to its postponement; it was originally
scheduled for July 24th. Surprisingly, less than half of the country's
eligible voters registered during the voter registration period. That led the
ISIE to extend the registration deadline and ultimately to offer voters the
opportunity to vote with national ID cards. And I think there’s still some
questions how that process is going to work on election day.
While limited public outreach about the process contributed to the low turnout,
citizens’ lack of confidence and longstanding biases against political parties
and politicians – a legacy of the corrupt politics of the Ben Ali era – also
played a role. I think cognizant of the growing information gap, the ISIE has
been holding weekly – has held weekly round tables with civil society groups,
political parties and the media, and they have certainly, in the last weeks,
strengthened their efforts to reach out to voters. And under the umbrella of
the – of the ISIE, the election commission, both media and political parties
have signed codes of conduct, though there are no accompanying enforcement
So in the months since the transition began, a country that was once ruled by
one party now has more than 116. And I think that, too, though, is normal in
transition processes. I think in Serbia, in their transition, I think they had
400 at one point.
But these – but the parties in Tunisia, I think, increasingly can be grouped
into three categories. There are the center-left and the center-right parties,
which include parties that were legal but repressed under Ben Ali. And those
key members – I’m giving the alphabet soup – but include the PDP, the CPR, the
FDTL, Ettajdid, the Democratic Modernist Pole, the UPL and Afek Tounes.
The second category are the Islamist parties, which include Ennahdha, the
country's strongest Islamist movement, which was banned and persecuted under
Ben Ali. And then the third category belongs to what I referred to as the bébé
RCDs, and those are the baby – the sort of remnants of the former ruling party.
And those include Al Moubadara and Al Watan.
But of this large number, only 66 registered parties submitted candidate lists
that were ultimately approved by the ISIE. Only five submitted lists in each
of the country’s 33 electoral constituencies; there are 27 electoral
constituencies in Tunisia, with six allocated to diaspora communities around
In total, the election commission approved 787 political party lists, 587
independent candidate lists and 54 coalition lists for a total of about 11,000
candidates, which – offering voters a bewildering array of choices among
parties, and many of these parties have had little time to develop distinct
identities and party platforms. So I think there’s still a lot of – there’s a
lot of worries that there are a lot of – there are certainly, we know, a lot of
undecided voters out there, and certainly a lot of voters that will have a hard
time distinguishing in the polling place.
And despite the 50/50 parity provision in the electoral law, ultimately, very
few women made it to the top of the electoral lists. And given that there are
so many lists, it’s likely that many parties will only get one seat, so the
actual representation of women in the constituent assembly will certainly be
On the eve of the election, public regard for the current transitional
government is low. Citizens suspect its motives and are particularly angry over
its inability to address economic and security concerns, and these are factors
that will also impact voter turnout and overall public confidence in the
integrity of the process. Strikes and other demonstrations have been common
throughout the period and have raised security concerns for election day, and –
as has an influx of weapons into the country from the conflict in Libya.
In response, the electoral commission is coordinating election-day security
with the interior and defense ministries, with the highest priority to include
ensuring open access to polling stations and secure vote-counting procedures.
But the effectiveness of this effort has yet to be tested.
The importance of religious identity in the upcoming poll and in the broader
transition process was most recently illustrated this past weekend by two
incidents. On Saturday, there were clashes at a university campus in the city
of Sousse over the banning of the wearing of the niqab, or the full face veil.
That incident was followed by protests the next day before a private television
station that had screened a film that depicts one woman’s experience under
religious rule following the 1979 revolution in Iran, and it’s deemed as being
in some places defamatory to Islam.
And I think these two incidents just – they kind of exemplify this increasingly
polarized debate over the role of religion. It’s particularly stark because of
Tunisia’s long background as one of the most secular countries in the Arab
world. But it – that will surely impact voters' choices on election day, not
only on October 23rd but in future elections.
Get-out-the-vote efforts by the election commission, the transitional
government, by civic groups and political parties are well under way now. You
know, I think there’s just been a – there has been recognition that citizens
are feeling confused, angry. People don’t really know what this election is
about. We did a round of – a recent round of focus groups that showed well
under 50 percent of the – of the respondents even knew that this was – what a
constituent assembly was; many people think they’re voting for a new president.
But I think that, you know, people hope that, just coupled with the excitement
of this election, that that will ramp up – that will ramp up turnout. But I
would say that all of these efforts will be in vain if the new constituent
assembly does not include public outreach in its strategy to rewrite the
constitution, and more particularly, to oversee governance during this next
This first Arab Spring election will set the tone for others to come, as we
said. And though criticized for many of its decisions, Tunisia's transitional
leaders have made efforts to include a wary public in the election process:
They’ve chosen a system of proportional representation that fosters
inclusivity; they’ve also allowed independent candidates to stand; and they’ve
expanded the voter registration process.
These decisions, as I said, may contribute to a lot of confusion and
uncertainty on election day and in its immediate aftermath. But while this has
not been a perfect process – no transition process ever is – I think the
underlying, the very important message to candidates and voters has been very
consistent, that the engagement of citizens in this election – the first among
many for Tunisia – is the most desired outcome.
Thank you very much.
REP. COHEN: Thank you, Ms. Freeman. And now we recognize Manshur Maloose (ph).
MOHAMED MALOUCHE: Thank you, Congressman, and thank you to the U.S. Helsinki
Commission for providing this opportunity to diaspora association to basically
provide its perspective and provide its observation on Tunisia’s economic and
political situation ahead of these historical elections.
The Tunisian American Young Professional Association is a nonprofit diaspora
group that is dedicated primarily at focusing on increasing economic
relationship and economic ties between Tunisia and the U.S. We believe that
democracy cannot succeed without economic growth and prosperity, and we have
been actively engaging the private sector between Tunisia and the United States
and also fostering a culture of entrepreneurship in Tunisia as one of the
enablers of future job creation and sustainability of job creation.
At this critical moment in Tunisia’s history, it is our belief that the United
States Congress needs to consider supporting the economic growth of what could
be the first successful democracy in the Arab world, one that could pave the
way to greater freedom in the region but also greater security here at home.
The success of this transition towards democracy goes above and beyond Tunisia
and will have impacts in the entire Middle East-North Africa region and the
world in the years to come. With a political transition of this magnitude
there’s obviously tremendous opportunities but tremendous challenges as well
that are ahead for the people of Tunisia.
Post-revolution Tunisia is a country that is ripe for rapid development. The
atmosphere has changed, reforms are being accelerated and people are able to
express themselves freely not only through political activism but also through
social, economic and humanitarian activities. Besides the 120 political
parties that were created, there are also thousands of NGOs, of association(s)
that are contributing to the well-being of Tunisia, which is really a sign of a
vibrant and responsible population interested in shaping its economy – its
In spite of these accomplishments, the concept of democracy and freedom are new
to Tunisia, and its political parties, media and civil society are adjusting to
a radically different way of life. Media coverage of Tunisian politics tends
to focus on its shortcomings rather than its accomplishments, and often
exaggerate facts to create sensational stories. There is a growing
polarization of the political debate which is preventing constructive
discussions and focuses on ideological conflicts between the left and the
right, between the activist youth and technocrats, secularists and Islamists
rather than addressing people’s real concern, such as improved living
condition, job creation, freedom and dignity.
As a consequence, the average citizen, not seeing much improvement in their
everyday life, questions the value of this post- revolution environment and are
uncertain who to trust in the public sphere. This has translated into relative
disinterest in the voting registration process – one measure of many in the
Tunisian population’s interest in the democratic transition. Right before the
official start of the campaign, two weeks ago, a third of Tunisians were still
unsure who they were going to vote for. While many are certain who they’re
going to oppose, there are few clear choices for most citizens. Many parties
have duplicated the platforms of other parties, and it’s hard to make informed
political choices. The risk is that citizens will make voting decision based
on media perception of candidates as performers rather than programs and policy
that their parties would support.
Additionally, the extraordinary large number of options is bound to be
confusing. My mother will be voting in the second district of Tunis. She will
have the choice between basically 80 ballots – you know, roughly 53 of them are
traced to parties and 30 of them are traced to independents. And while I’m
confident that she’ll be able to sort this out – she has – she was fortunate to
have had a great education; she’s been a math professor for the past 30 years –
you know, I am a bit concerned certainly that less fortunate people, especially
the elderly, will not have that opportunity and may not have the context or the
education to make informed decisions.
Despite these challenges to a meaningful adoption of democracy, my hope is
obviously that these elections will be fair, transparent and without fraud.
The outcome of this election is actually known to a certain degree; it’s going
to be a heterogeneous assembly where no political party can govern or have a
majority. Consensus building will be crucial. And in fact, the success of
these elections will be measured by the ability of elected officials to
effectively collaborate and form coalitions.
The leaders of the main parties need to rise above their personal ambitions and
move from this chaotic dispersion to a national union based on the interests of
Tunisia. They need to move beyond ideological contexts into practical,
pragmatic discussion about the political future of Tunisia. This action will
send a strong signal that will increase people’s trust in their elected
officials and encourage the citizen to engage into furthering the political
This moment is not only an opportunity for Tunisia but for the entire region,
and Tunisia’s responsibility is truly great. The Tunisian revolution already
directly or indirectly led to the swell of change in Egypt, in Libya, in Syria
and Yemen, but also in Morocco, where fundamental reforms are being put
forward, and Saudi Arabia, where women will be eligible as candidates in
municipal elections for the first time in history.
Our organization’s belief is that people will continue to lack motivation to
nurture the democratic process until the political debate starts moving away
from basically ideology and polarization, and until the people begin
experiencing some change or some perception of change in their economic daily
lives. 2011 has been a year of tremendous change for Tunisia, but it has –
it’s also been a year of severe economic and job creation slow-down. According
to economic predictions, Tunisia needs to achieve an average growth of 6
percent in order to create a half-million jobs in the next three years and
reduce the unemployment rate to 10 percent. It will not be able to achieve
this kind of growth without the support of the international community.
An ambitious five-year economic plan called the Jasmine Plan was developed by
the Tunisian government and submitted to the G-8. It consists of short-term
social and economic measures to re-establish normal economic activity, and a
medium-term program consisting of regulatory reforms, infrastructure projects
and the development of a knowledge-based economy that is based on technology,
innovation and entrepreneurship.
This plan needs the support of the United States Congress to enable the
administration to accelerate its assistance to Tunisia by providing loan
guarantees to Tunisian small- and medium-size businesses, launching a Tunisian
enterprise fund to provide seed money supporting private-sector growth, and
using its influence over international lending institutions to accelerate
financial support. With this kind of help, Tunisia can become a successful
example of democracy and prosperity in the Arab world, and can give hope to
millions in the Middle East-North Africa region.
This is a historical and unique opportunity. If this revolution does not
succeed in Tunisia, it has little chances in other countries that have
experienced the Arab Spring. If this revolution succeeds, the impact of its
success will have far greater consequences in the region, and Tunisia’s
transition might provide a framework for other countries in the region.
Ensuring economic stability and growth in these critical months ahead will
prove that democracy is possible in a region of the world so dominated by
dictators. The political revolution needs support – to be supported, but it
will not achieve its objective if the economic revolution is not adequately
It is up to Tunisians to make this revolution work, but it’s very much in
America’s interest to see that happen and to be part of a bilateral and
multilateral consortium of backers. For a relatively small investment right
now, the U.S. can not only protect its interests in Tunisia’s stability but
help realize significant political and economic returns from a wider
revolutionary process that is still very much at risk.
Thank you again for the opportunity and thank you for the attention. I look
forward to your questions.
REP. COHEN: Thank you. I want to thank all of our panelists for their being
available today and for their comments. I am – I’m rather a neophyte at this
world – I have not spent six years studying the Middle East, having gone to
Qatar to do math or been a young professional, et cetera – so I have to ask
some basic questions.
And one is going to be, just what exactly – and maybe you have an idea – the
politic and how are – how are the folks – A, how do they determine the
constituencies? They try to do it by population and give everybody an equal
vote or is it done by geography in how you vote? And how do people campaign?
Do they – you know, have TV commercials and banners and yard signs? What’s
MR. MALOUCHE: So I may not be the best person to – (chuckles) – but I’ll give
it a shot, certainly. You know, I think – I think what’s happening is the
campaigns are in their infancy, you know, both because of relatively, you know,
unavailable means – financial means, but also because people just don’t feel
like they have an established strategy. And so the campaigns are really around
educating people on what the constituent assembly is going to do, rather – and
in also signifying sort of some of the key differences that each political
The constituent assembly, there’s – the territory of Tunisia has been divided
up into circumscriptions, essentially. There’s also circumscription seats that
have been awarded to the diaspora – people living outside of Tunisia. And, you
know, perhaps you could provide a little bit more technical – (chuckles) –
information about that. But, you know, I’d love to focus on also the economic
parts. That’s, I think, where my added value could be.
REP. COHEN: Thank you. Do – either of y’all can help me a little bit? Give
me a picture.
MR. MCINERNEY: Yeah. As far as the electoral districts and the
constituencies, Tunisia has traditionally been divided into 24 governorates.
And those 24 governorates essentially have been translated into electoral
districts. The three – three of the largest governorates have been split into
two electoral districts. So that gives you a total of 27 districts in the
country. And then there are six electoral districts for Tunisians outside of
the country. There are – there’s a governorate – sorry – electoral district –
one for Tunisian – or, say, two districts actually for Tunisians in France, one
for Tunisians in Italy, one for Germany, one for the rest of the Arab world and
one for Tunisian expats in the Americas and the rest of Europe.
As far as the –
REP. COHEN: Are those set up by population or were they just set up by –
MR. MCINERNEY: They are set up by population. In order – in addition, the
rural governorates, governorates with less than 270,000 people, are allocated
two additional seats. And those between 270,000 and 500,000 people are
allocated one additional seat and the – beyond that, they’re allocated – sorry
– each seat generally represents 60,000 people. So you basically have – you
know, each district – the size of the district is basically proportional to the
population of the district.
It’s – you know, as compared with electoral districts in most of the other Arab
countries, it’s much more equitable. You know, it’s – you know, you have much
less sort of tradition of rigging or gerrymandering of the districts. And, you
know, it’s generally perceived to be a – you know, a fairly, you know, good
equitable representation of the population.
REP. COHEN: And Ms. Freeman, can you add anything and tell me a little bit
about the politics of it all? How they –
MS. FREEDMAN: Yeah. I think, again, it goes to this sort of effort to be
inclusive. I mean, it’s – for example, the overseas constituencies, it’s not
clear that they would last beyond this constituent assembly. But I think what
– the message is that, you know, that many of – many of the Tunisians in the
diaspora are there because they couldn’t live under Ben Ali. And so giving
them a voice in this constitutional development process is really important.
And the same thing as Stephen mentioned about the rural districts which have
been traditionally marginalized – economic developments, the politics played
out in Tunisia in Tunis and along the kind of larger coastal centers. So I
think this effort to make sure that marginalized people are – also have a voice
in the constituent assembly is very important.
MR. MALOUCHE: And if I may add just one detail, there is a parity conditions
in the list, meaning that there is basically equal representation between men
and women. You know, there’s a man, a woman, a man, a woman, et cetera.
REP. COHEN: Is there any – what are the – (you ?) used – you mentioned that
you don’t think there’s so much issues; it’s personality-driven – actors – kind
of like something akin to America, I guess. And – but there got to be – are
there issues that are people talking about? They want to see guaranteed
rights? Is there discussion on this?
MR. MALOUCHE: Yeah, I mean, there’s certainly issues that are a bit polarizing
issues. Obviously there are discussions around sort of what type of regime
Tunisia will have – sort of a presidential versus semi-presidential versus
parliamentary regime. There’s a lot of discussions around secularism versus
Islamist – whether the constitution needs to have references to Islam.
There’s, you know, discussions around regional development which has been an
issue that has been really sort of abandoned by the previous regime. You know,
the – you know, Tunisian economics, you know, they love to calculate average
but they never look at sort of the span and range of the divide. And so
regional development is really one of the focus area that has been – that is an
area for discussion.
But in general, I think, the Tunisian people are moderate, you know; they do
not, you know, like excesses or violence. And there’s a consensus that the
future constitution needs to fundamentally have what differentiates Tunisia,
meaning the social advancement of Tunisia, the woman rights, you know, things
that are truly, you know, making Tunisia pretty unique in the Arab – in the
REP. COHEN: What’s being discussed, if anything, about economic reforms to
make sure that there’s not a concentration of wealth in 1 percent of the
MR. MALOUCHE: Yes. So that’s a very – a very important topic. In fact, with
– so from the political party standpoint, there’s all sort of numbers that you
can hear. Unfortunately, you often don’t have clear calculations or
assumptions or even a way of funding these things, so you hear numbers that are
extraordinary – around 15 percent growth, creating 1 million jobs.
The bottom line is I think the – to date, the most relevant and probably most
serious plan that I’ve seen has been the Jasmine Plan that was put together by
the government that is a plan that is completely – it’s a five-year plan. It’s
completely different, sort of, from the previous plan in the sense that it – it
is – first of all, its size. You know, it’s a – it’s a – it’s basically a
hundred-billion dollar plan over five years.
It’s focused on regional development. Fifty billion dinars, which is roughly
$40 billion, out of this hundred billion will be dedicated to regional
development. The concept of transparency, the concepts of rule of law are – and
social sort of responsibility are in this plan which is completely new. And so
really there’s a – I think an intense focus on trying to provide equal
opportunity to everybody in Tunisia, which was lacking in previous plans.
REP. COHEN: Now, let me ask – you mentioned that the former – Ben Ali’s group
are not going to be able to participate. How are you going to determine which
individuals are part of his group, and do they have – the ones that have not
fled, are they trying to organize in any way in this election process?
MS. FREEMAN: Well, there are some former RCD elements running. And they’re in
– they’re in these parties that I referred to as the bébé RCD parties. There
was a list of key members of the old regime that were banned from politics.
There were a number of party lists that were submitted and then ultimately
rejected by the election commission because of some of the names on those
lists, although in some cases those people went to court and were able to
overturn the election commission’s decision.
So I think those elements of the former regime are definitely still out there –
maybe not, you know, the leaders, but certainly a lot of rank-and-file members.
And the party, you know, it was very large. It was like the Communist Party
in the Soviet Union where I think a lot of people joined not necessarily
because they had an affinity for the politics but because this was the way to
get jobs, to, you know, kind of advance in society. So I think it’s kind of a
– it’s a little bit muddy. But I think that we’re going to see a lot of
protections put in the constitution to prevent any, you know, one party from,
you know, kind of stealing the show again.
REP. COHEN: Mr. McInerney?
MR. MCINERNEY: Yeah, I would add that there are some, you know, former
high-ranking members of the Ben Ali regime that are – you know, that are not
allowed to run as candidates in these elections but are nonetheless prominently
and publicly associated with some of the parties that are running.
Ms. Freeman mentioned, a couple of the parties – Al Watan and Moubadara –
they’re each sort of, you know, seen as being led by Kamel Morjane and Mohamed
Jegham, both of whom were ministers during the Ben Ali government. Neither is
running as a candidate himself, but they’re sort of the public face of these
Currently, according to the most recent polling, each of those two parties is
pulling at about 3 percent, although there’s some that suspect that they may
perform better in the elections than the polls reflect because some feel that
some Tunisians may be reluctant to admit in a poll that they’re going to vote
for parties that are seen as tied to the old regime but then when it comes to
election day in the privacy of the booth they may do so.
But as I’ve just mentioned, you know, even if they performed considerably more
than 3 percent, they’ll still be, you know, a minority in the – in the
constituent assembly and there’s no real risk of them dominating the assembly.
REP. COHEN: The Helsinki Commission had a hearing not long ago about – with
Coptic Christians from Egypt testifying about the problems they’ve had, and
then of course we saw what happened just recently – difficulties of the Coptic
Christians and being a religious minority in Egypt. Are those circumstances at
all present in Tunisia with issues with the Coptic Christians there, or any
other religious issues – the Brotherhood or anything?
MR. MCINERNEY: I mean, there’s not a – there’s not a significant Christian
minority in Tunisia. Traditionally there had – there had been a rather large
Jewish population – most of them have emigrated, but there are some that are
present. But there are – isn’t much, you know, current tension with that
community. I’d say the greater concern regarding religious tensions is, you
know, among the majority-Muslim population, there are many of Muslim heritage
that are quite secular – you know, many that have strong ties to sort of French
And there is – there are fears of – you know, within this sort of secular,
leftist, liberal communities in Tunisia there’s a lot of fear and suspicion of
the – of the Islamists. And so you have this big divide. Ennahdha, the
Islamist party, is pretty much, you know – the consensus – expectation in the
elections is that they will come away with the largest number of seats. But
–you know, a plurality but certainly not a majority of the seats.
And they have taken – you know, I think Ennahdha recognizes that they are
operating in a political society that’s very secular. They’ve taken many steps
to try to reassure others they’re sort of aware of the fears of them both
within Tunisia and perhaps in the international community in general – fears of
We were pleased to see earlier this year that when – it was mentioned, this
parity on candidate lists for the elections – the requirement that all lists
alternate between male candidates and female candidates. This was – this
system was initially proposed by the minister of women’s affairs. It was, you
know, seen as quite a progressive, you know, move. And Ennahdha was actually
one of the first parties to publicly endorse this system before it was adopted,
which I think was a step that they tried to take to alleviate some concerns
that they would be opposed to women’s rights or women’s advancement in Tunisia
or that they might seek to undo some of the – you know, the rights that women
had been given in the past.
Nonetheless, despite steps such as – (inaudible) – still lots of suspicion will
remain, I think. And, you know, until Ennahdha is in the government and taking
part and – you know, I think there’ll be some of these tensions.
REP. COHEN: Ms. Freeman, would you like to be Helen Reddy or anything? Would
you like to – (chuckles) –
MS. FREEMAN: Well, I just would note, again, on the women’s parity issue, it’s
sort of a good news/bad news story because, again, women did not make it to the
top of very many lists. So, with so many parties it’s unlikely, you know, that
they will have the representation that I think many people had hoped for. But
they are at the top of lists on a number of the Ennahdha lists, so I think
that’s pretty interesting as well.
But this religious divide, the – you know, I think it’s – Ennahdha and Islamist
parties were so horribly persecuted and many of the leaders of Ennahdha spent
years in jail. And I think – you know, I think people want to be able to say,
look, you know, it’s like this – this march at the – this disturbance at this
university in Sousse over the weekend. You know, people want to say, you know,
look, it’s our right to able to be fully veiled or not be veiled. I think
that’s really – it’s – I think it’s really more about personal liberties – part
of this religious debate.
REP. COHEN: Thank you. Do you – would you like to add anything?
MR. MALOUCHE: Well, just briefly, to – I think to complement what has been
said there, there’s certainly a big divide relative to sort of the role of
Ennahdha and other Islamist movements. There’s perhaps a school of thought
that think that these folks are moderate, that they are going to adopt sort of
a Turkish model, that they will also be scrutinized by the Tunisian youth and
Tunisian women, especially with the use of social media, and that at the end of
the day they need to be considered as sort of a – you know, like a Christian
Democrat type of party.
There’s another certainly conflicting view to that, which states that, you
know, there’s somewhat of a double language that is being used in the sense
that the Islamist – and, you know, perhaps one of – some of the most radical
Islamist elements are, you know, may not forbid certain things; for example,
they were not going to forbid a woman from wearing whatever she wants, so
they’re not going to impose the veil, but they may bother those women that do
not wear it.
Similarly, they may not ban alcohol or wine, but they will demonize the people
who consume it. And so it’s really, you know, sort of – you know, a
fundamental change is going to happen without seeming that it’s going to
happen. And so that’s one of the concerns, I think, that I’m hearing certainly
in one segment of the population.
What I’d like to add is just one thing – is this revolution is not about Islam.
This revolution was about freedom and dignity, about job creation, about
regional inequalities. And at the end of the day I believe, you know, that’s
what needs to be addressed as well. You know, obviously, you know, we need to
draft a constitution. Tunisia needs, you know, a good constitution because
without a good constitution, you know, we’re doomed.
But the important thing is that for this – for this government, you know, to
engage in profound economic reforms and implementation of reforms so that it
creates perhaps not the growth immediately but at least a perception that there
are things that are moving. And in order to do that, we absolutely need the
help, you know, certainly of the Congress, of the administration, of the
REP. COHEN: I would like to ask Mr. Milosh, on behalf of our chairman, Mr.
Smith, the opportunity to ask some questions.
MARK MILOSH: Thank you very much, Congressman. On behalf of Chairman Smith –
I’m his staff director at the commission – on behalf of the chairman I’d like
to ask a few questions about the constitution that – because after all, we’re
electing an assembly here that’s going to draft the constitution.
As I was listening to the testimony, I was – I was thinking about one of the
most successful experiences we’ve had in electing assemblies to draft
constitutions, and that would be for – when West Germany in 1949. We were
occupying the country and, you know, they had an election that elected an
assembly that drafted a constitution that’s been – that’s really been
And one of the striking things about that is that despite World War II, in
which we just fought against Germany, despite the fact that we were occupying
Germany, that it was divided, we really left Germany enormous freedom and
latitude to draft almost whatever kind of constitution they wanted. We laid
down certain parameters which were – which were not really constricting. You
know, it had to be democratic; of course, that’s what the Germans wanted
The only parameter that we laid down that they were not necessarily so thrilled
with was that we were going to have a federal constitution, and maybe half the
– half the people in Germany wanted one and maybe half the people wanted a
centralizing constitution. But so, you know, that was – that was a point in
which we got involved in the drafting of that constitution and laid down a
As I’m thinking about what’s going on in Tunisia, I’m wondering, what kind of –
what kind of involvement are we – are we – are we getting from the
international community? What kind of parameters might they be laying down?
You know, I would like to see a constitution in Tunisia that’s drafted by
Tunisians that comes out of their traditions – their traditions of legal and
This concern that I’m trying to articulate comes out of some developments I’ve
seen in European constitutional law that I think are very alarming. I’ve noted
in the past couple of – in the past 10 to 15 years that there’s a tendency in
Europe to separate a constitution from its ratification – a belief in many
legal circles that a constitution can be drafted by a board of experts and that
the fact that it’s ratified by the people for whom it’s for is really rather
And, you know, the experts know what is needed, and they can make a
constitution, and ratification is a formality that we arrange. Of course, this
is totally alien to the American way of thinking in which a people has a
constitution for itself, and you have to make it your own by being involved in
drafting it and by taking its ratification seriously.
So I’m concerned that we’re – that we don’t have a constitution here created
for Tunisia by experts, and that all the negotiation is between, you know, a
Tunisian bloc and a group of international legal scholars and mobile
constitution-drafters who come up with constitutions for various countries.
And I would like to see this be a process of compromise within Tunisia so that
Tunisians feel like this is our constitution – we made it; it comes from us; it
speaks to us; it wasn’t something handed to us.
So those are a bunch of factors I’m throwing out there I’d like to hear your
I’d like to throw out one other factor, and that is a tendency, I note, in the
European constitutions in the past 15 to 20 years to make the constitution more
than a constitution, to make it – to begin to bring the statute book into the
constitution whereas, in America, a constitution is the, you know, the rules of
the game, but it’s not the laws themselves. And in Europe recently, we see
constitutions coming out that are very, very long, that, in effect, bring the
statute book into the constitution, and this makes it unstable because people
want to change laws, but you’ve made it part of the constitution, which I think
should be just the rules of the road for how laws will be made.
So I’ve thrown out a lot here, and I’d like to hear everyone’s sort of
thoughts, reactions, however you may see it.
MR. MCINERNEY: On one of your points about the involvement of sort of
international experts, I think the – I expect it will see this to a
significantly lesser degree in Tunisia than has been the case in many other
In the Arab world, there is now a sort of increased resistance, a sort of
awareness of this process, and I think the experience in Iraq also has led to
sort of a resistance of outside involvement and interference in this
constitutional drafting process, and my impression from the way and things are
now unfolding in Tunisia is that this – this will generally be a constitution
that comes from Tunisians and it comes from internal debates.
There are lots of internal debates going on now not only within Tunisia but
also within all the various parties in Tunisia. I think this constituent
assembly will involve, you know, parties that represent the – you know, this
entire spectrum of Tunisian society, and I think, you know, this will, you
know, result in kind of vibrant debates internally on most constitutional
On your point about the tendency to make a constitution sort of, in a sense,
more than a constitution, I think that is perhaps more of a concern. I – it’s
unclear yet – as of yet, you know, what all – you know, what the scope of the
constitution will be. There’s some that feel as though some parties or groups
that may have a strong showing in these constituent assembly elections and may
feel as though they have more power – including some of the parties that
existed, but, you know, were limited, but existed during the Ben Ali regime –
maybe sort of had a head start in that they’re better organized and they may be
sort of overrepresented in this constituent assembly as compared with their
likely representation in the future, that those parties might push for as much
as they can in the constitution and sort of push for, you know, things that
would be, you know, better suited to being in statute and in law – to be
enshrined in the constitution, to protect them because they feel that, you
know, by the time they get to a formally elected legislature or parliament they
may have a lesser role. So I think your – there’ll be some, you know, some
sort of struggle between some of those forces and others and, you know, how
that will play out is yet to be seen.
MS. FREEMAN: Thank you.
You know, in some ways, Tunisia’s transition has reminded me a little bit of
South Africa’s. I think the Tunisians have been, in many instances, including
that the election commission, some of the government institutions that have
been set up since the revolution, they’ve been a little bit “hands off,”
reticent to accept or to ask for the kind of foreign assistance that
organizations like NDI and IFIS (ph) and IRI provide, and I think the message
has just been that they know that this – they have to get this right
themselves, and that was similar to what the South Africans did.
And it – and it has meant some stumbles along the way, but it’s also meant
things like, you know, they took their calendar – initially they were going
just go – first, there was great pressure on them to have a presidential
election first. They got rid of Ben Ali; they needed a new president, but
instead they went this route for the constituent assembly, I think, in
recognition that they needed – you know, they needed a legal framework, they
needed – they needed that – the rules of the game first.
And it’s just kind of ironic that the former – the ruling party of Tunisia’s
first post-independence president, Habib Bourguiba, was called the Destour
Party, what – the Constitutional Party. So I think there’s an attachment and
understanding of the significance of this document, but I think, again, as Mr.
McInerney said, I think the concerns that they’ll get a really long,
complicated document – they are coming out of, you know, heavily influenced by
sort of French traditions – is a concern.
And I think the thing that we’re really looking at in the post-election period
when – through our U.S. government-funded program will continue to be working
with the parties – some of the parties in the constituent assembly, as much as
they will allow us – and with civil society just to make sure that throughout
this process that the link is made between the constituent assembly and the
public, that they – whether they have some kind of a regular public dialogue or
– you know, but just that this process is truly an inclusive one. So that’s
where we’ll be going forward. Thanks.
MR. MALOUCHE: I’m just going to add a couple of thoughts.
The – I think there’s certainly a strong desire in Tunisia to basically – for
Tunisians to own and develop this constitution, not that there’s any sort of
trust deficit of any sort, but I think this is an important moment in Tunisia’s
history and, you know, the political forces that are going to make up the
constituent assembly will want to basically take that responsibility.
You know, a couple of challenges, however, that could in fact benefit from the
support of the international community – you know, there’s not a strong
tradition of debate in Tunisia, but it’s getting there. You know, we’re –
which – in fact, it’s normal after 23 years of sort of dictatorship that we
don’t have that tradition, but, you know, it’s getting there.
I think what’s lacking, perhaps, is after the debate, sort of a process to
reach a decision, and I think that’s where perhaps some of the outside
technical support could, you know, could be useful.
The other thing is – around your point about sort of involving the people and
sort of having – making sure that the constitution at the end of the day
reflects the desire of the people rather than perhaps, you know, only the
vision of certain members of the constituent assembly or all of the constituent
assembly – you know, I think that’s, again, another area where perhaps some
support would be welcomed in terms of sort of participative democracy, in terms
of putting together focus groups; in terms of, you know, putting together
polling. There’s, you know, work that’s been developed here, specifically by
Stanford University, around, you know, these types of things, and that could be
certainly of tremendous support. So –
MR. MILOSCH: Thank you – (off mic) – I have a quick follow-up here.
You know, I’m imagining – and tell me if I’m wrong – I’m imagining that there
are already a number of law professors at Tunisia’s leading universities who
understand that they’re going to be advisory bodies to – or advising the people
who are drafting the constitution. You know, I imagine they’re already
thinking and discussing amongst themselves and probably even reaching out to
Do you know what they’re – what they’re particularly interested in or what
their orientation is? If it’s – if it’s very largely to – for – as I imagine,
it might be to French legal positivism or are they also reaching out to people
at law schools in the U.S. or in England or maybe – and to a Muslim legal
tradition in Egypt or elsewhere? Any thoughts here you had on that would be
MR. MCINERNEY: Certainly that – they’re – they’d look very much to Europe, and
there’s a strong segment that will be, you know, naturally looking to France,
as you mentioned.
It – there’s also a lot of – you know, of course, we mentioned the Ennahdha
hizbul (ph) will certainly have a prominent rule in this assembly, and they
have a lot of sort of, you know, Islamic scholars, and I think they are looking
very much actually to Turkey. There’s a mention of them sort of –
possibilities for the Turkish model and that the AK Party in Turkey, the – a
lot of the, you know, leaders of Ennahdha, and actually some of the smaller
Islamist parties as well, look to Turkey not so much in terms of like Islamic
thought but in terms of practical – you know, how do you translate, you know,
Islamic principles into effective governance. And they – the – I think they
look much more to Turkey than they do to sort of Islamic scholars in a lot of
these other Arab countries.
I also know that the AK Party from Turkey has a lot of – their people are on
the ground now in Tunisia helping Ennahdha to prepare for the elections, and
they look – they see their sort of practical experience in governing and
electing and in taking part in elections and in guiding Turkey through a period
of sustained economic growth as a – as a model. And so I think that they – I
think they’ll be – on their sort of – in Islamist circles, I think that they
look, you know, to some degree their world, but – especially to Turkey – and
then, within the more sort of secular part of the society, naturally to Europe;
more than anywhere else to France.
There’s been bit of a backlash publicly at France this year. France was seen
as having been the number-one backer of the Ben Ali regime; they were seen as
supporting him till the very end, you know, and as the protest grew, the French
foreign minister made some unwelcome comments about providing support to the
Tunisian police to help put this down, which actually led to the firing of the
French foreign minister. And so, as a result, even though you have a sort of
strong legacy and ties intellectually and academically to France, there’s sort
of a reluctance in many circles to sort of be openly or publicly affiliated
with the French, and so there’s – which has strengthened sort of the positions
from the other European countries and also the United States.
MS. FREEMAN: Just as a footnote, I was going to mention the Turkey model as
I mean, just last month, Prime Minister Erdogan did a trip to Egypt, Tunisia
and Libya and with his consistent message that, you know, Islam is not
incompatible with democracy; we have a good model; we want to help. And I
think it’s – in sort of broader terms, it’s really, you know, Turkey, I think,
just kind of finally throwing in the towel on EU membership and looking south.
So I think they really are probably the big – you know, kind of larger power to
watch in terms of influence over the region.
MR. MALOUCHE: Well, I think – and the general consensus is, I think, the
reality in the ground is that most law professor and most constitutionalists in
Tunisia are coming from the French system, and so I think it’s a natural
outcome to expect that there will be a heavy French influence on sort of the
future constitution. But I would agree with my colleagues that I think the
general intentions is to gain best practices as well from the Turkish model
and, frankly, from this model in the United States as well. So that’s why the
Tunisian constitutionalists are really trying to reach out to – as a broader –
as a forum as possible to sort of gain those best practices. The purpose is
not to really draft the best constitution; but, you know, the best constitution
will not make the country successful – but a bad constitution will make it
MR. MILOSCH: Thank you very much. It’ll be interesting to watch the Turkish
Back to you, Congressman.
REP. COHEN: Thanks. Prime Minister Erdogan, did he – I know he was in the –
in the area. Was he – was he in Tunisia? And how was – was he received well?
MS. FREEMAN: Yeah, I think he was received particularly well in Tunisia and
Libya. I think there was just a little bit more of a backlash in Egypt where
it was – (inaudible) – Muslim Brotherhood just was – came – just went, pushed
back and said, don’t tell us how to – you know, how we should, you know, build
our democratic system; but definitely in Tunisia he was well-received.
REP. COHEN: How – how’s the United States and President Obama seen in Tunisia?
MS. FREEMAN: I think very favorably. Yeah, I mean, I don’t – I don’t know
what else to say beyond that, but I think – I think quite – I think quite
favorably. I mean, I think, you know, as everyone said here, I mean, the, you
know, Tunisians want to see a democratic system and, when people talk about a
democratic system, you know, they do still look to us as the ultimate model.
MR. MALOUCHE: I think the administration and the president are absolutely seen
favorably in Tunisia. They have, you know –
MR.: (Sneezes.) Excuse me.
MR. MALOUCHE: – obviously sort of – there’s been a rupture with, you know,
sort of the previous presidency, which really had a lot of trust deficit. But
I think, you know, the – what the Tunisian people are very, you know,
recognizant for is the fact that the United States has moved very quickly in
supporting the aspiration of the youth and has moved very quickly in supporting
In fact, I think, the first official who came to Tunisia arrived on the 15th of
January or the 16th of January to Tunis and, as he was walking out in the
airport, leaving back to the United States, he saw the French delegation and
the Italian delegation arriving, and so that says it all. In essence, you
know, the U.S. has had a much quicker reaction and a much more positive
reaction towards supporting the revolution, so the image of the U.S. is really
at – I would say at all-time highs.
REP. COHEN: What, if any, elements of al-Qaida are present in Tunisia?
MR. MALOUCHE: Well, there is, you know, certainly, you know – have been, you
know, isolated security issues that sometimes have been traced to perhaps
groups that are affiliated to al-Qaida, but there has been no presence frankly
of al-Qaida group or active groups in Tunisia, probably due to a certain degree
to the fact that security was one of the highest priority of the former regime
and that crackdowns after crackdowns, you know, basically limited the –
(chuckles) – the possibilities.
But fundamentally I think the Tunisian people, you know, through sort of their
differentiator, through the education, through the fact that, frankly, the
country has strong institution(s), has, you know, a value proposition that is a
bit different from other countries in the region, that growth, you know, or the
seeds for that type of movement to grow in Tunisia was just not there.
REP. COHEN: Thank you.
Is there anybody in the – in the audience that would like to ask a question or
make a comment of any sort whatsoever?
Yes, sir, the microphones are on the end.
MS.: They’re right – they’re right – (inaudible) – whatever.
REP. COHEN: The extreme end. There’s one pointed out, I guess.
Q: Good morning, everybody, my name is Raid (ph); I’m a counselor at the
embassy of Tunisia here. I just wanted to add something about the – what the
congressman asked, you know, about the clashes of religion.
Just in Tunisia, we are mainly, predominantly a Muslim population, about 98
percent, with one – 0.9 percent of Christians and 1.1 percent Jews, and just I
wanted to inform you that there is two Jewish Tunisians that are representing
themselves as head of lists during these elections – one in Tunisia, in the
island of Djerba. That island actually houses one of the oldest synagogues in
the world, and the guy who’s presenting himself is the son of the president of
that synagogue, and it’s being viewed, as I told you, this longstanding
heritage of, you know, acceptance of the other and peaceful co-existence of
religions in Tunisia.
Another comment I would – I wanted to make, just Mohamed Ali now mentioned it,
about the – I would say the threat of extremism in Tunisia is – it’s true what
he said that, you know, in Tunisia, the make of the society, the moderation,
the education, all the – but there are – there have been very serious threats
about, you know, the revolution, what was going on in Libya, the smuggling of
arms through the porous borders. So the actually – the security threats are
there, so we would like to protect our borders as, you know, as much as we can.
So just wanted to – the threat is minimal because we have a very vigilant army
and a very vigilant, you know, security patrols. But, you know, the risk of
infiltration, especially with the conflict in Libya, has been pretty serious,
and we look forward to, you know, more assistance with U.S. and other partners
to secure our borders. Thank you very much.
REP. COHEN: Thank you. I think I understand in your previous – the previous
government, the senate wasn’t as active or powerful, but there was a Jewish
member of the senate, was there not?
REP. COHEN: What – what’s the status of that gentleman? Is he – does he still
involved in politics or was he part of the old regime and gone, or what?
Q: Well, I have no information about as – I mean, is he still active in
politics, but I know that he’s the president of the Jewish community in
Tunisia, and he’s a well-respected figure among the Jewish community and the
Tunisians. Whether he wants to, you know, continue into politics or not –
REP. COHEN: Yeah, got it.
Q: – that is his personal – but he lives safely, normally as he used to.
REP. COHEN: And then – this is just my own cultural gap, I guess. You said,
“Mohamed Ali,” and I –
Q: Yeah – no, no, no. He – because his name is Mohamed Ali, he’s referred to
as “Mohamed” here in the U.S., but in Tunisia we call him – you know, his name
is Mohamed Ali –
REP. COHEN: And nobody calls him Cassius Clay – (inaudible)?
Q: No, no, no, it’s not the boxer. No. (Laughter.) You don’t – you don’t
have to fear any punches from him.
REP. COHEN: I was confused.
Q: Thank you very much.
REP. COHEN: Thank you, sir, thank you. Any other questions?
If not, you know, I was thinking during the discussion, and my mind goes
different places. You were talking about the issue of the veil and the whole
problem and what they cover themselves with, and I was – (inaudible) – it’s
kind of an alien issue; to some extent in America you don’t think about that.
But it’s certainly better than Boston and Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren.
(Chuckles.) It’s definitely a similar issue in a way, but it’s a lot
Other – if there’re not any other questions, I want to thank all of our
panelists for participating, and I look forward to experiencing and learning
more about the whole process. I mean, I’m just fascinated.
And one question I didn’t ask, which I want – are there – are there voting
machines there? Or you have voting machines, or is it a paper ballot?
Q: No, no, it’s going to be voting machines.
REP. COHEN: Voting machines. And is there a paper trail? I mean, have you
all gotten to Rush Holt’s level yet, or where are we?
MS. FREEMAN: Yeah, I think there will be a paper trail and, in fact, the
election commission – they were little bit late in this, but they did finally
put out, publish polling place procedures, and they’re pretty standard, and I
think there’ve been – I mean, people should be able to – observers and party
agents should be able to observe the count. They will post the results at the
REP. COHEN: You know if they will require photo IDs, and – like we’re going to
start to do here in America?
MS. FREEMAN: Well, I – you know, I – that’s a good question. I don’t know if
the voter – if their voter registration cards have their picture on them.
MR. MALOUCHE: There’s actually going to be the national identity card that’s
going to be used. Obviously, if you’re – if you’re registered, you can vote
pretty much where you registered. But if you haven’t registered, which is the
case of about roughly, I think, 35 percent or 40 percent of Tunisians, you can
still register – you can still vote in the district where your identity card
MS. FREEMAN: And show the photo ID.
MR. MALOUCHE: Yeah.
REP. COHEN: Just something they’ve got that we don’t have.
Well, with no further questions, I want to thank everybody once again, and this
hearing is officially adjourned.