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Christians in the Muslim World

“Let them govern, but let us keep a watch over them”

Interview with H.E. Msgr. Maroun Lahham, Archbishop of Tunis, by Maria Laura Conte

"I can only confirm what has already been reported by the international observers: the elections went smoothly, in a proper, free and transparent way. I share the enthusiasm that the majority of the Tunisian people and the media that followed the events showed in the high turnout at these elections and which they continue to express now in the constituent phase". Msgr. Lahham thus summaries his opinion of the elections of 23 October, the first ones following the fall of Ben Ali’s regime, which saw a 90% turnout of the electorate and marked the success of the Islamic party Al-Nahda.

 

 

The doubt remains that the unrest that broke out just a few days after the news of the election results, when the lists of the PPJD party of Hechmi Haamadi were excluded, cast a shadow over this enthusiasm…

 

 

No, the protests in defence of Haamadi soon subsided, the curfew imposed only lasted one day and the situation soon returned to normal. Haamadi is a rich entrepreneur who lives in London and from there, thanks to his TV, managed a daring electoral campaign without ever setting foot in Tunisia, a campaign full of electoral promises, above all of material goods, salaries and money for the great number of unemployed. The poorest people followed him. The exclusion of his lists was due to various factors, not least the lack of respect for some of the electoral campaign regulations and the nearness of some of his henchmen to the past regime. In Tunisia if you are in Ben Ali’s shadow, today you are excommunicated.

 

 

So what does the Archbishop of Tunis now expect?

 

 

I am optimistic, things have gone well and now we have to respect the will expressed by the people: to let those who won govern and to make sure that they follow their programme. There is no time to put forward objections, but to let the winners work in the year that they have in front of them until the next elections. Then we shall see how the people assesses their work. It is too easy to always be on the opposition.

 

 

According to you, what helped Al-Nahda’s success?

 

 

The 90 seats gained in parliament were a surprise, first and foremost for the winners themselves. They won because they used moderate language, and understood how to appeal to Islam intelligently. Bu they were undoubtedly the most organised party with a history behind them. This included also a history of persecution by the previous regime and now I expect that it has become a point of honour, an advantage over the competitors. Many people, me included, feared that the representatives of this political party were using a double, ambiguous language, showing a moderate stance but aiming elsewhere instead. But this is no longer the moment for reproach at this level. They ask us to give them a chance: they won the electorate’s approval and this must be respected. They have guaranteed that they will leave at the first protest against them. We now have the task of keeping our eyes open, to make sure that they are steadfast in this but also to let them work.

 

 

And how do you see the other political representatives?

 

 

Those who took part in the electoral campaign were very fragmented and this weakened them. Everyone was running for himself, with various personal lists, about thirty of them taking home one or at the most two seats. There are about 60 seats that just ‘disappeared into thin air’. If they had been able to join forces they would have beaten Al-Nahda.

 

 

Who backs this successful party from a financial point of view?

 

 

All the Islamic parties in any part of the world have economic funds which they can count on. They get them either from their supporters or from the Gulf countries. They have no problems from this point of view.

 

 

And what role did the army have and where does it stand in Tunisia now?

 

 

The army was neutral. It has been close to the people as guarantor of security since the days of the revolution until today.

 

 

Do you think that Turkey can be the valid model of reference for the new Tunisia as maintained by many of Al-Nahda’s representatives?

 

 

Many people try to maintain this parallelism between Tunisia and Turkey, but it is an instrumental way to attempt to show Europe that it is possible to conjugate Islam and democracy, something that is difficult to understand in the West but which has taken place in Turkey. According to me, it is not possible to transplant a model from one country to another: the Turkish system cannot be copied and reproposed as it stands here in Tunisia. Ours will have to be a Tunisian democracy.

 

 

What role did the media play in these elections?

 

 

Undoubtedly the new media like Facebook and Twitter were greatly used by the young people to liven up the debate, also because they cannot be easily controlled. But at the same time the traditional media also suddenly exploded: two state and two private TV channels were born after the revolution, and now two more are appearing. All the programme schedules included party political broadcasts, round tables with a fixed quota to allow all the politicians to present their respective programmes. While before the Tunisians used to watch Italian Rai and France2, during the election period they all discovered the Tunisian TV channels, which were not always – it must be recognised – impartial.

 

 

What are the priorities that your country should face now?

 

 

There are two: employment and security. It is necessary to give work to the young and to get the economy going again; the foreign firms must come back to invest here, tourism must be revived, relations with Libya must be re-established. The second urgent need is security, the police must not humiliate the people but be the guarantor of the country’s situation.

 

 

© Reproduction reserved

 

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