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‘Extremism is not acceptable’, says Tunisia’s new president

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-12-16

Moncef Marzouki, the new Tunisian president, demanded the extradition of ousted leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali from Saudi Arabia in an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24 and warned against the dangers of extremism in his country.

Elected president of the Tunisian Republic on December 13, Moncef Marzouki, a longtime opponent of deposed dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, has taken up residence in the presidential palace in Carthage.

His first interview to foreign media as head of state was given to FRANCE 24 on Friday.

FRANCE 24: Do you think you will succeed in having Ben Ali extradited?

Moncef Marzouki: We will do everything we can. We will ask the Saudis to return him to us. I understand that you can give political asylum to someone who has been persecuted for their ideas for example, but not to a man who stole almost five billion Dinards from Tunisia – almost a third of the state’s budget. We want him here to face justice, not vengeance.

F24: Will you look to bring Ben Ali’s accomplices to justice?

MM: I am passionate about human rights. Justice is not about revenge. It is essentially about setting right the wrongs, and ensuring those who have committed crimes ask for forgiveness. For certain despicable crimes justice is necessary, but in most cases - when people recognize their wrongs and ask for forgiveness - we need to forgive and forget.

F24: You have spoken about the need to ‘clean’ the Ministry of Interior. What do you intend to do?

MM: The police were probably the first victims of the dictatorship. Ben Ali used the police not to protect the people, but to protect himself. They literally became the enemy of the people. It is a shame because 99 percent of them are Tunisian citizens who have been wrongly judged. They say the majority of the police are paying for the crimes of the minority who tortured and robbed their victims. I make the distinction between the main body of the police - which needs enhancing - and the small minority of criminals within the service, who need to be put before the courts.

F24: How do you respond to the concerns surrounding your political agreement with the moderate Islamist party Ennahda?

MM: In this country we are threatened by two types of extremism: religious extremism represented by a certain number of Islamists, and secular extremism when as soon as someone says they are a Muslim people presume they are a terrorist. Neither is acceptable. The danger is a confrontation between Muslim and secular extremists. This is exactly what I want to avoid. We have a very clear agreement with the Islamists that neither the rights of men nor the rights of women are to be harmed.

F24: Tomorrow you will welcome the Syrian National Council, who are opposed to President Bashar al-Assad and his regime. Do you intend to export the model of the Tunisian revolution abroad?

MM: No, we do not want to play that role. But Tunisia supports the Syrian people in their fight for democracy. I regret the fact that the Syrian revolution has become more violent and moved towards civil war, with the possible risk of foreign intervention. I wanted it to continue like the Tunisian revolution: peaceful, democratic and without foreign intervention. But the responsibility lies with the dictatorship. It has to go. Maybe we need to find a way out for Bashar al-Assad, maybe through a trial, if that is the price to end the violence. I always said that life is more important than justice.

F24: There is the impression in Tunisia that the people believe that power is still in the hands of those on the streets. There is a still an atmosphere of revolution.

MM: Yes we are in the midst of a revolution – a revolution that enabled a peaceful transfer of power, and one that witnessed open and honest elections. At the moment we do not have either a presidential or parliamentary system. It is a regime led by the constitutional assembly. The power of the executive has been shared. It is essentially in the hands of the Prime Minister, but in consultation with him I will have a say on Defense and Foreign Affairs.

Date created : 2011-12-16


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