x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Nations watch Tunisia's 'laboratory of democracy'

Tunisia's opposition veteran Moncef Marzouki was sworn in as the country's first elected president since the revolution sparked the Arab Spring.

Tunisia’s new president, Moncef Marzouki, was visibly moved as he was sworn in yesterday.
Tunisia’s new president, Moncef Marzouki, was visibly moved as he was sworn in yesterday.

TUNIS // Tunisia's opposition veteran Moncef Marzouki was sworn in as the country's first elected president since the revolution sparked the Arab Spring.

"I will be the guarantor of the national interests, the state of laws and institutions," Mr Marzouki said with his hand on the Quran as he took his oath before the constituent assembly that elected him president on Monday.

"I will be faithful to the martyrs and to the objectives of the revolution," he said, almost a year after the start of the mass protests that ousted Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and sparked popular revolts that also toppled dictators in Egypt and Libya.

"Other nations are watching us as a laboratory of democracy," he said. "The main challenge is to attain the revolution's goals."

With tears in his eyes, the 66-year-old leader, who a year ago was living in exile, solemnly promised to be the "president of all Tunisians".

"Our mission is to promote our Arab-Muslim identity and be open to the world. To protect the veiled [women] and girls in niqab as well as those who aren't veiled," he said, adding that he would safeguard health, education and women's rights.

Calling for national reconciliation, he also challenged the opposition "to participate in the nation's political life and not confine itself to a role of observer".

Before taking up residence, Mr Marzouki held talks with the outgoing president, Fouad Mebazaa, who was appointed interim president after Ben Ali's January 14 ousting from power.

Tunisia's constituent assembly on Monday elected Mr Marzouki president just over a month after legislative elections. His first task as president will be to name Hamadi Jebali, number two of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, as prime minister of a government to be unveiled today. Mr Jebali "will tomorrow be given the post of head of government", the president said after his inauguration.

Promising to be a "president for all Tunisians", Mr Marzouki called on the opposition to "participate in the political life of the country and not content itself with the role of observer".

Mr Marzouki was elected with 153 votes in the 217-member constituent assembly.

He was Ben Ali's bête noire throughout his political career and was forced to live in exile in France for a decade.

Critics accuse Mr Marzouki of being a pawn of Ennahda, which came in first in the October 23 constituent assembly elections with 89 seats.

Mr Marzouki's Congress for the Republic Party, whose symbol is a pair of red glasses inspired by his outsize spectacles, was second, winning 29 seats.

Mr Marzouki, who headed the Tunisian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LTDH) from 1989 until Ben Ali supporters forced him out in 1994, has a deep-seated passion for human rights.

An admirer of India's independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, he travelled to that country as well as South Africa after its transition from apartheid to democracy.

Mr Marzouki, a father of three, is divorced from his French wife. He has written several books in French and Arabic including one titled, Dictators on Watch: A Democratic Path for the Arab World.