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Tunisia’s President: ‘The extremists are a minority of a minority’

September 27th, 2012
07:20 PM ET

By Samuel Burke, CNN

It's been almost two years since a young fruit vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of a Tunisian government office.

Bouazizi died from his burns, but his friends and family said that the real cause of his death was the loss of hope - that he would ever find opportunity or dignity in Tunisia.

That single act gave birth to revolution in Tunisia and then all over the Arab world - in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and beyond. 

Tunisia's uprising was seen as a model. After months of protests, Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali left the country peacefully, paving the way for democratic elections.

But as with all the Arab Spring uprisings, it was not that simple. The ultra-religious Salafis began attacking liquor stores, theaters and the very idea of democracy itself.

Unemployment has gone from 13 percent in January of 2011 to just over 18 this year.

Then this month, hundreds of demonstrators in the capital of Tunis joined the wave of anti-American protests all over the world over the Internet film that denigrated the Prophet Mohammed. Protestors clashed with police and they set fire to the U.S. embassy. Four people died.

A week in photos: Turmoil in Tunisia

This week Chancellor Merkel of Germany announced that she has cancelled to this country. Local reports cited safety concerns stemming from the protests.

Yet there are strong voices of moderation in Tunisia. Among them is the president of Tunisia, Moncef Marzouki.

In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour Thursday, Marzouki said the Islamists' movement has a wide spectrum of ideology, and at the far right is Salafis movement.

“And the Salafis movement itself is a wide spectrum,” Marzouki told Amanpour. “It's a tiny minority within the tiny minority who are Salafis, jihadists.

He says Tunisian authorities report this group to be just 3,000 people, and Marzouki said just 300 people constituted the group protesting against the American embassy in Tunisia, a day he dubs “Black Friday.”

Egypt charges Coptic Christians linked to infamous video

He doesn’t believe they were linked to al-Qaeda, though he says it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

“I think that, in fact, they are the product of the Tunisia society: poverty, illiteracy and so forth. And this is why dealing with this problem is quite difficult.”

“They are now the most important threat against Tunisia, not against the stability of the country, because this country is stable, but against the image of Tunisia.”

Images of Tunisia’s beaches is what attracts more than five million tourists to the country each year, a far cry from the images of protests this month.

“We realize that those guys were dangerous for our image,” Marzouki says. “But now they're threatening our relationship to the whole world.”

Marzouki has a stark warning for the international community: “If we do not succeed the transition to democracy in Tunisia, it will never work in any other part of the Arab world.”

Though he says he has been given positive reassurance from Europe and the United States.

Marzouki told Amanpour he had a “very good meeting” with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Tuesday. He said that she assured him the U.S. government is a friend of Tunisia and they will help train security forces and give more military equipment.

“Our American friends know very well that, of course, the Tunisian population and the Tunisian government were extremely shocked by what happened and they are extremely against it and they want really to set up a new democracy.

“Tunisia is a lab for the Arab Spring, Marzouki reiterated. “So we have to succeed. And our friends have to support us to succeed.”

At various points throughout the year, including during the recent protests at the U.S. Embassy, Tunisians have been heard chanting "Obama, Obama, we're all Osama."

Marzouki didn’t deny that, but said, “In Tunisia we don't mix up the far right groups of Europe or the white supremacists in the United States with the American people or the American government. So why should we be mixed in with a very, very tiny minority?”

Marzouki pledged that the government will crack down. He says the country’s new constitution will show the world the direction Tunisia is headed.

And he’s confident the constitution will be progressive – “promoting human rights and women's rights.”

On attempts by conservatives to add an article making a women’s role “complimentary” to that of a man’s, Marzouki says: “Forget about it.”

Adoption of a new constitution has been postponed until April of next year.

Tunisian artist graffitis minaret, fights intolerance

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Habib

    Being minority of minority about the conservatives IS good news.I hope it would be %0 one day.

    September 28, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Reply
  2. Zied

    Tunisia is a land of peace and the presence of some violent individuals does not mean the presence of terrorists

    September 28, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Reply
  3. paul chen

    To make the most of images of Tunisia's beaches because of a lab for the Arab Spring.

    October 1, 2012 at 10:25 am | Reply
  4. Chukwuemeka Nwosu

    He appears like a sincere leader acting in isolation. He needs the support of the average Tunisian to move the country forward

    October 1, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Reply
    • jaysonrex

      Forward means backward full speed wherever Islam is concerned.

      October 5, 2012 at 11:07 pm | Reply
  5. Joe

    Needs positive men to left the national flag,not manority in manority

    October 2, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Reply
  6. Hichem

    This president of Tunisia has flip-flopped badly. He used to be a Human Rights activist. He has sold his soul and principles to his allies, the Islamists, who are keen on reversing any rights Tunisians have. Just see what is going on with the rape victim who is now the accused. How can he be allies with these people?
    This so-called President is a figure-head, like the Queen of England. He is going from one Capital to Capital to gain sympathy and stature on the world stage while his countrymen are suffering daily from human right abuses.
    He is calling these Djihajids a minority while it is He who let them out of prison with his amnesty. He let all the thugs and extremists out of prison and these people are terrorizing the population and all foreigners who live peacefully in Tunisia. It happens that the US Embassy was attacked which brought the issue to the fore. However, Tunisians are suffering daily from the terror of this so-called "minority".

    October 3, 2012 at 5:18 am | Reply
  7. Ash. Azzouz

    If they're a tiny minority and they're representing a threat to Tunisia , what are you waiting for to stop them ? Well, not all of them at least the dangerous ones...

    October 9, 2012 at 8:52 am | Reply
  8. Cordell Bamba

    January 11, 2021 at 2:15 am | Reply
  9. Ivory Eberspacher

    Would you mind me asking where you got the image in this article from?taken.

    January 12, 2021 at 12:22 am | Reply
  10. Antone Primm

    January 21, 2021 at 12:32 am | Reply
  11. Katharine Pitt

    January 28, 2021 at 10:51 pm | Reply
  12. Harris Sengvilay

    March 4, 2021 at 10:48 am | Reply
  13. Alec Guster

    March 6, 2021 at 1:55 pm | Reply

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