Ahmed Najib Chebbi and his political party are positioned to play a key role in debate over Tunisian society’s changing landscape. Chebbi is emblematic of the Tunisian opposition and is now in the transitional government. He spoke to euronews in Tunis.
Jamel Ezzedini, euronews: Mr Ahmed Najib Chebbi, minister for regional development and founder of the Progressive Democratic Party, you’re part of Tunisia’s new coalition; analysts say most Tunisians question its credibility because there are several members of the old regime in it. How does your party see this?
Ahmed Najib Chebbi: What you say is a point of view. Tunisia today guarantees the right to freely express opinion, in the media or in street demonstrations. I respect that opinion but I don’t share it.
I think the government’s credibility is based on two things: its composition and its programme. And the ministers carrying over from the former regime were ministers kept out of the political decision-making circle. Those decisions were in the hands of a single man, assisted by a close-knit circle of advisors in Tunis.
In contrast to that, we’re asking for change today, to give the government the possibility to take political decisions within its mandate, so that credibility is acquired through its actions and is not based solely on its words.
Credibility is there also in the names of ministers in this government, one of whom served as ambassador in several countries, Ahmad Ouannis, and another who used to be leader of the Tunisian labour union, Tayyeb el-Bekkouche; he did time in prison. And there is a great cinema director, Moufida Tlatli, who is also in this government. So, its make-up, programmes and its mission are ample defence against any allegation of this sort.
Let’s not forget that some ideologies, whether of the right or the left, are trying to push the country towards confrontation, employing slogans of exclusion. But let’s not forget the dangers surrounding us, which threaten our country: chaos and the menace of dictatorship.
We want a swift and peaceful transition towards democracy, within six months at the most.
euronews: You’re saying you don’t think the RCD party should be disbanded, even though that’s what people in the street are calling for?
Chebbi: Calls in the streets or not, I think answering demands that are wrong should be avoided. Breaking up the RCD is not a legitimate demand. However, the separation of this party from the state is a legitimate demand.
You’ve seen revolutions in eastern Europe… Have they dissolved the Communist parties? No. These parties continue their activities today. They have merely been separated from the state and become, once again, parties like all others, subject to elections on an equal footing, not favoured or privileged, but with a basis of equality of opportunity.
Therefore, I have not asked for the dissolution of the RCD as happened in Iraq with the Baath party. I only ask that the former party in power be separated from organisations of the country.
euronews: Some say that your party, in order to take power, has abandoned a 40 or 50-year militant struggle against the regime [a struggle which preceded the party’s formation]. What’s your reaction to these accusations? These were years in which your ‘party’ suffered several totalitarian reprisals.
Chebbi: The RCD reached out to us, a person who is also in the transitional government reached out to us. What to do? Refuse that hand? …when all they want and all any of us want is to help get our country out of this impasse.
Our party was the first to raise the question of national unity, even before Ben Ali’s fall. When these members of both the old and new government proposed that we work together for the good of Tunisia, at the same time as guaranteeing the realisation of the necessary social and political reforms, we did not refuse.
Why would we refuse to cooperate with them, if it is for the good of Tunisia? We are not giving up our historic struggle. On the contrary, I think that working with these people will give us a real chance to achieve our goals within six months.
euronews: Why have other political parties been excluded from the government of national unity, such as the communists, the Enahdha movement or the nationalists?
Chebbi : The nationalists have existed in Tunisia for a very long time but they are not organised. There are divisions among the groups. We respect all of them. We in the Progressive Democratic Party get on well with them. Communicating with them may have been neglected, but it should also be said that the head of the government has met the number two man in the Enahdha movement, Hamadi Jebali, for one hour. The head of the government also asked to meet the representatives of other, non-recognised parties, and some of them refused.
We have tried to include all the parties in negotiations, but, as the saying goes: ‘You don’t throw out everything because you didn’t get everything you wanted.’
The government was formed by movements that feel capable of meeting the challenge, and which have the capacity to work with and reach out to others, to achieve fixed objectives.
euronews: There’s talk of attempts to hijack the Tunisian people’s revolution, from the inside and outside. How do you see it?
Chebbi: If there were any external threat at all, it would only target the national unity government, to overthrow it, because, the government will make Tunisia the best model to follow, through popular revolution, the Jasmine Revolution.
Redirecting the revolution, I feel, would be to refuse to carry out what the people are asking for. The people want us to take steps for justice, in development efforts in the country’s different regions. [It shows that] we are starting to see tangible results in terms of freedom of expression.
As for regional development, for the first time in Tunisia, this government has a minister for that; I have been given responsibility for that ministry.
That is how we are sending a strong message to all Tunisians, that we will work steadfastly to guarantee the social rights for which Mohamed Bouazizi died [burning himself Jan. 4 2011, in protest at confiscation of his street vendor’s cart].
euronews: How do you see the future of this government? Will it manage to bring to term the political reforms needed in preparation for the next legislative and presidential elections?
Chebbi: Life is full of challenges, and I am betting on this government succeeding. I am well aware of the challenges ahead of us, and I don’t think they represent a big threat to this government.
Things could go wrong, but in spite of that we will shoulder our responsibilities until the end, as we want urgent political reforms in the six coming months.
We will achieve them day by day and hour by hour. We want social reforms also, and we are going to prepare the way for future generations, so they can go forward assuredly and with complete peace of mind.
Tunisian opposition icon sees positive future