Marzouki will not seek to lead Tunisia opposition: Manser

Karem Yehia in Tunisia, Tuesday 30 Dec 2014

Ahram Online talks with Adnan Manser, the closest advisor to outgoing Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki, about his role in the transition period and his outlook for the future

Adnan Manser
Adnan Manser (Photo: Courtesy of Congress for the Republic)

Adnan Manser has been a significant figure in Tunisia during the three-year period of political transition, which will officially reach its end on Wednesday as president-elect Baji Caid Essebsi will start his first term in the Carthage palace.

Manser, an academic and historian, remained transitional president Moncef Marzouki's closest advisor. Being also the spokesperson and office director of Marzouki, Manser resigned in September to run Marzouki's electoral campaign for the presidency.

He spoke to Ahram Online after the announcement of the results, coinciding with protests against the outcome in southern Tunisia.

Ahram Online: You are accused of deliberately slowing down the transfer of power, especially after Marzouki's statement on the election results. Can you comment on this?

Adnan Manser: This is not true. Power will be smoothly transferred, and we are trying to finish this process quickly due to the country's present conditions. In Nidaa Tounes, they need some time to arrange themselves.

AO: Marzouki did not file an appeal against the election outcome and established an initiative called the Citizen People Movement. Is he trying to portray himself as a future opposition leader?

AM: Not at all. The initiative came to deal with an urgent matter. There is a state of depression among those who elected him (44 percent of voters) resulting from a feeling of undeserved loss against the counter-revolution. Since politics is what we think of – and not necessarily the reality – people believe that the polls were forged on a large scale.

AO: Do you have evidence?

AM: Our legal team has some evidence, and only the judiciary will settle the matter in the end. Peaceful means, therefore, should be used to contain tensions in order to avoid a rise of violence, especially among rivals in southern and central areas on the one hand, and in northern and Sahel regions on the other. At the end, we will all accept the electoral results as long as the process took place transparently. Marzouki gained 1.3 million votes, and youth were part of this voting bloc. The legislative elections last October saw the collapse of centrist parties and the winning of rightist parties such as Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda. The leftists, also, are dependent on Ennahda. These elements enhance a belief of having a parliament without opposition. Our estimations suggest that opposition parliamentarians will not exceed 14 MPs inside the 217-member legislative body. The opposition's energy will emerge in the streets and outside state institutions.  

AO: You assert that Ennahda – Marzouki's former coalition partner – will not be in the opposition. Isn't it too early to make a judgement as the government is still not formed?

AM: I think Ennahda will not be an opposition group, even if it stayed out of government. Its parliamentary bloc will cooperate with Nidaa Tounes.

AO: Marzouki had publicly appeared three times in 48 hours following the voting day to address his supporters in front of his campaign's headquarters. Is he preparing himself for a political role in the coming period?

AM: I think he is not entitled to play any prominent political roles in the next period. He has no ambition for leadership or establishing a new group or movement or political party. Perhaps the whole issue will be restricted to a symbolic presence, and I think this is enough. The man does not have a culture of revenge, even if it was for elections. Notice that he called for political mobility and not for creating a movement by itself. There is a difference between both.

AO: Visitors to the voting stations can notice a class division. I personally saw that Marzouki has a problem with the bourgeois. His suits, wearing them without ties, are not preferable to such a sect of the society.

AM: Yes, there is a social division that was reflected in the presidential elections. In the future, political mobility has to put in consideration this issue.

AO: How do you perceive the Tunisian General Labour Unions (UGTT) position towards this division?

AM: The UGTT took the side of the bourgeois during this ongoing political conflict.

AO: If Marzouki, as you said, will not lead the opposition, then who is qualified to play this role?

AM: There are many youth figures that are capable of leading, but they need some time to arrange themselves. Many discussions are taking place within the groups that voted for Marzouki, which could produce a new opposition entity. I don't personally think that the political parties can do this task, although it is their duty to help in achieving it. The problem lies in managing to organise a large civil opposition that stands against any violations, for freedoms and the constitution and gains support from civil society and non-partisan youth. But the political parties will remain a small component of the solution as far as I believe. The issue, in my view, should not involve the leader – whether an individual or a party – of the opposition. We are facing an unprecedented phenomenon, which indicates that the solution should be unprecedented as well.

AO: Some voices recommend former prime minister Hamadi Jebali, who recently resigned from Ennahda, as a potential opposition leader. Is that possible?

AM: He is actually looking for a role. But his biggest problem is that people are holding the government responsible for the deterioration of the revolutionary, transitional path to a great extent.

AO: Do you expect the opposition to take to the streets against the Nidaa Tounes government as it happened before with the Ennahda-led troika coalition and led to its resignation?

AM: It is impossible to see again what happened last year. I think the opposition will act wisely because of the overall conditions.

AO: Can you practice an extent of self-criticism and speak to us about some of your mistakes committed in office?

AM: To succeed, each authority has to possess a large social base. We did not manage to form this base due to time constraints and moving to a period dominated by division. We did not govern in normal circumstances. The UGTT, media and businessmen were all against us. You might succeed in moral terms, but you cannot on practical basis.

AO: But you ignored and offered nothing regarding the demands of the revolution concerning socio-economic rights.

AM: We raised wages unseen before throughout the history of this country. The state's cadres in administration, syndicates and economy continued to be against us. They were all supporters of the old regime and out of our control.

AO: You did not reform the state apparatus, isn't that your responsibility?

AM: Any measure that targets reform would have produced further complications, as well as violence in the country. We should not forget that we had no ability to adopt these measures. Ennahda government, not the president, had definitely enjoyed such authorisations. The president was a symbolic head of state, with roles limited to national security and leading the country towards the end of the transitional phase. I guess we have achieved it. The temporary constitution, which stipulated the powers of the president and the government, was drafted by Ennahda in the constituent assembly to fit its goals. Ennahda wanted to concentrate all powers within the hands of the government and the assembly.

AO: Why was Marzouki's stance negative pertaining to the abortion of political isolation law for members of the former regime?

AM: As a president, Marzouki's position necessitates his opposition to the political isolation law. You have to put in mind that he does not enjoy an acceptance or refusal authority. When the majority of the assembly's members – including those of Ennahda – voted against the law, Marzouki had to respect their choice as a head of state.

AO: You are apparently defending rather than self-criticising. Aren't you?  

AM: Part of the mistakes was hard to avoid, it was imposed on us. Anti-revolutionary forces were not represented in the constituent assembly. They used all means to be in contact with the Tunisians. But I can tell you that we made mistakes, specifically in terms of our relationship with the media. Because of our excessive enthusiasm and limited experience, we adopted a discourse that did not unite the people.

AO: Did you maintain the support of the intelligentsia?

AM:  From the beginning, our alliance with Ennahda signified a redline for them. They denounced our alliance, as secularists, with Islamists. But we couldn't achieve the majority without getting into an alliance with Ennahda due to the structure of the 217-seat assembly. (89 seats for Ennahda and 29 seats for Marzouki's Congress for the Republic).

AO: But you told me in November 2012 that the "troika" (composed of Ennahda, CPR & Ettakatol) formed a committee that encompasses a member from each side to agree on all policies?

AM: This deal was not activated, and the decision-making remained in the hands of Ennahda. The committee met several times, but its decisions continued to be slow. Ennahda and Ettakatol formed an alliance against the CPR.

AO: Marzouki deliberately delayed issuing an amnesty for the caricaturist accused of disdaining Islam. He also stayed silent over the extradition of Al-Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi by Jebali's government to his Libyan counterpart, although he is a refugee in your country. Wasn't that a betrayal to his history in the domain of human rights?

AM: Marzouki did not delay releasing the journalist because he had to wait for a final verdict by the court examining the case. When he was released, we ordered personal security for him. Concerning Al-Mahmoudi, Marzouki played no role in his extradition. The government of Jebali took such action, challenging the authorities of the president. The president could not have resigned within months of reaching office. He had overcome the situation despite his personal hurt. If he was not a statesman, he would have resigned to satisfy his narcissism. This matter requires strength.  

AO: Did the CPR reach its end after suffering splits during the assembly's period and possessing only four seats in the current parliament?

AM: The party needs to work again on returning to the political arena. We lost our seats in the late legislative elections because of the severe polarisation between Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes. Anyway, achieving progress is inevitable for the party, otherwise it will disappear. The party lost its leader at an early period after Marzouki became the transitional president in December 2011. Disagreements over joining the government – and later over its performance – were exhausting to the party.    

AO: Were members and backers of Ennahda appointed in the state's administrative apparatus?

AM: A large part of such appointments were not correct. However, we should put in mind that the troika gained power amid lacking an ability to run the state affairs.

AO: How many Ennahda members were appointed in state institutions?

AM: I have no numbers, but I think many of the circulated estimations include exaggerations.

AO: After four years, what remains of the revolution?

AM: Enthusiastic youth and divided, narcissist leaderships. Freedom of expression is another profit, though I fear its loss in the future.

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