President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's interview with Mr. Melhem Karam, Dean of the Lebanese journalists.
Mr Melhem Karam :
Twenty years is an insignificant period of time in the history of peoples. But this period was enough, in your Era, to make deep changes in the life of Tunisians. What are the main results of this process of Change? And what are the "secrets" behind this success?
President Ben Ali: I think that Tunisia's achievements over the past two decades are now well known, and are testified to by numerous regional and international organizations and all honest observers. But what interests me in the first place is the feeling of all Tunisians that these achievements have positively changed their life.
We have managed, in a relatively short period, to materialize a societal project whose foundations have been consolidated through successive deep reforms aimed at anchoring the rule of law, preserving human rights and liberties, and promoting pluralism, and establishing the society of dialogue, consensus and solidarity. We have offered opportunities of participation for all, and achieved a quality leap at the economic, social, cultural and political levels, offering Tunisians the attributes of citizenship, and strengthening their sense of belonging to Tunisia.
The progress and development achieved in Tunisia during the past twenty years, the prosperity and well-being enjoyed by our people, and the climate of security and stability reigning in our country, all sum up the main results of the process of Change we have undertaken, and reflect our success in achieving the objectives we have set for Tunisia.
We are proud today that Tunisia has achieved transition from a monolithic political system to a pluralist system, and that it has laid the foundations for a societal model based on moderation, openness and equal opportunities for men and women, a society where all political parties and civil society components play an active role and support the State's effort in managing public affairs.
Through these comprehensive changes, our economy has achieved transition from a directed economy to an open and balanced one, reconciling economic performance with social progress. We have, in fact, achieved a nearly 5% growth rate during the last twenty years, which has made it possible to bring down the poverty rate to 3.8%, to expand the circle of well-being and enlarge the middle class which now encompasses 80% of society, and to increase the per capita income more than four times.
All this has made of Tunisia today an emerging, joie de vivre country, deeply immersed in the spirit of its time; a country where each has a position and an opportunity; a country whose citizens are proud of belonging to it and participating in its edification.
Our awareness of these achievements bolsters our determination to make the process of reform wider and more comprehensive, and to lay a propitious ground for new stages of political and economic action which will be materialized in the coming days. Mr Melhem Karam : Against the background of these successes, what are the main challenges and stakes for Tomorrow's Tunisia?
President Ben Ali: We have been keen on adopting a program that ensures a better future for Tunisia, as part of a strategy through which we aspire to make further strides in the process of comprehensive development at all levels.
Along with the objectives contained in the 11th Development Plan (2007 - 2011), our Program for Tomorrow's Tunisia reflects our vision for the coming stage, for the future of Tunisia, and for what we are called on to achieve.
Development objectives and national priorities have been set in such a way as to meet our people's aspirations for further progress and well-being. This requires the adoption of policies and programs that not only preserve the soundness and gains of the national economy, but also consolidate its competitiveness and its capacity to achieve integration within the world economy.
We will endeavor to consolidate the pace of economic growth so that it reaches 6.1% annually, which will allow us to increase the per capita income to 5,700 dinars in 2011, and to continuously improve the living standards of the Tunisian citizen, who remains the end-purpose of all our efforts and reforms.
We will work to ensure the flow of foreign investments, and to reinforce these investments particularly in new, promising sectors, in order to promote development and employment in our country. We will provide opportunities for big investors from sisterly and friendly countries, further develop legislations, and reinforce the structure of the financial sector and develop its mechanisms in such a way as to meet the requirements of investment.
We will bring to completion the establishment of the foundations of the knowledge-based economy which lies at the core of our program for the present and future stages. In fact, one the challenges of the coming stage consists in intensifying investment in scientific research and mastering modern technologies, now that our country has made large strides in this field.
Having managed, thanks to the investments we have allocated to the sectors of education, scientific research and training, and also thanks to the reforms we have introduced in these fields, to make the school, the university, and all training institutions, accessible to all Tunisia's sons and daughters, it is now one of our challenges to provide best chances of success for our coming generations whom we consider the country's principal wealth and the basis for its prosperity and progress.
Employment being our top concern, we will endeavor to further promote the system of education and training, and to strengthen the mechanisms of creation of projects and sources of income; the aim being to bring down the unemployment rate from 14.3% in 2006 to 13.4% in 2011, with the creation of no less than 412,000 jobs covering 97% of the additional demand.
Our reform project being comprehensive and multi-sided, we aspire to make new strides as regards anchoring democracy and political pluralism, and reinforcing our people's capacity to contribute to universal civilization, without relinquishing its authentic values.
We cherish great ambitions, and are confident that our people is indeed capable of winning the stakes of the coming stage; our achievements being the platform from which our people moves ahead in enriching our gains and promoting the status of Tunisia from an emerging country to a developed nation.
Mr Melhem Karam : This is an exceptional year in Tunisia, in which Tunisians celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Change and the 50th anniversary of the proclamation of the Republic. What are the significances carried by this occasion?
President Ben Ali: The proclamation of the Republic in Tunisia was a crucial historical turning point in the life of our people, through which it recovered its sovereignty and will, and launched the process of development and modernization.
We are deeply convinced that the Republic is a national gain for which generations of Tunisia's sons and daughters had struggled; and the Change was, in fact, an act through which we saved the Republic and Tunisia from the real dangers that threatened them, and launched a reform project that has consolidated the foundations of the Republic and preserved its values.
We have been keen to make sure the project of Change in Tunisia reinforces the attributes of dignity for all Tunisians and preserves their full rights of citizenship.
We have crowned this process with the establishment of the foundations of the Republic of Tomorrow, proceeding from our belief in the need to promote the republican system and to modernize and enrich its institutions.
No doubt, the various reforms undertaken, as regards the promotion of the relationship between the legislative and executive branches, the consolidation of the role of the Constitutional Council and the neutrality of its members, the amendment of the system of parliamentary and presidential elections, the establishment of the Chamber of Advisors to expand the circle of representation, and the holding of popular referendums in case of need, all confirm the fact that the Republic of Tomorrow is a mirror reflecting the degree of political maturity our country has achieved. It also constitutes an enrichment of the present and lays the foundations for the future, without losing sight of the glorious heritage of the past. We have insisted that the Republic of Tomorrow draws from the Tunisian deep-rooted heritage of intellectual thought an energy ensuring its renewal and anchoring its authenticity.
The 50th anniversary of the proclamation of the Republic in Tunisia carries innumerable meanings and significances, the most important of which being the need to preserve, consolidate and enrich our people's gains, as a token of loyalty to Tunisia and faithfulness to the sacrifices made by the generations of liberation and building of the modern state.
Mr Melhem Karam : Political pluralism in Tunisia is now a tangible reality and an integral part of the political scene. What are its future prospects in Tunisia? And how do you assess the Opposition's presence and performance on the political scene?
President Ben Ali: Since the Change, we have taken the commitment, vis-a-vis the Tunisian people, to establish a modern political life for which our people is eligible, as we have always asserted. We have undertaken major reforms through which we reinforced the rule of law and made large strides along the path of pluralism and democracy.
Moving ahead in anchoring democracy ranks high on our personal agenda, and we are strongly determined to continuously promote our political life.
Regarding the second part of your question, we have fostered the role of Opposition parties, and eliminated the possibility of marginalizing their role in promoting political life in Tunisia, after we have offered these parties propitious conditions to freely exercise their activities, proceeding from our conviction that the Opposition constitutes an integral part of the political scene and a fundamental component of the democratic process.
We are convinced that the political and legal platform established in our country today represents the most appropriate framework to expand the participation of the Opposition and consolidate its political presence. These parties are now offered wide opportunities to work for reinforcing their presence and intensifying their activities in all freedom, after we have provided adequate conditions for their development.
We will move ahead in further consolidating the foundations of a pluralist society, and political parties are called on to promote their capacities within a context of freedom and national responsibility, and to optimize their work so as to increase their influence and thus contribute to building the future of Tunisia.
In Tunisia, pluralism is now a tangible reality that finds its concrete illustration in the presence of the Opposition in the Chamber of Deputies, the Chamber of Advisors, municipalities and all elected national bodies and councils. This in addition to the increasing number of NGOs operating in Tunisia, which all enjoy freedom of action and independent decision. They also freely express their positions in their newspapers and all other media.
Despite these considerable achievements, we have never said that the process has been brought to completion. In our view, change and reform are a ceaseless process toward a modern political life offering wide prospects of participation for all civil society components.
We have opted for an approach that shuns slowness, precipitation and improvisation, in order to protect our democratic process against regression and decline.
Gradual action is the safety valve we have adopted to protect our country against setbacks, and the continuous promotion of our politi
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|Publication:||UMCI News (Potomac Falls, VA)|
|Date:||Jun 11, 2008|
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