Caid Essebsi: ‘We are the exception but we want to be the model’
WASHINGTON - Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi visited Washington with a good story and a simple message that Tunisia could be a standard for developing democracies.
Caid Essebsi, speaking at the US Institute of Peace, said: “Now we are the exception in the Arab world but we want to be the model to be emulated. I do not call it the ‘Arab spring’. This is the beginning of a ‘Tunisian spring’. If it is confirmed, an ‘Arab spring’ might be born.
“We have not succeeded yet but we took important steps. We need economic success to succeed and this is not available yet.”
Caid Essebsi made it clear that the economic success of Tunisia depended on US assistance. “If they help us we will succeed, otherwise we will remain the exception,” he said.” The United States, Caid Essebsi added, “is the backbone of the international system and we ask that they pay attention to us.”
Caid Essebsi met US President Barack Obama and the US congressional leadership of both political parties, who asked pointed questions about the economy, the investment law and the security situation, but in the end expressed whole-hearted support for Tunisia.
Riadh Mouakhar, a member of the Tunisian parliament who accompanied Caid Essebsi, said he found the Americans very supportive. Wafa Makhlouf, another member of parliament on the official delegation, said she was impressed by what she saw and heard in Congress. But, she noted, Congress wants Tunisia to do its part of the bargain. She said the overall message from Congress was “you have to make the reforms”.
The Arab Weekly asked former US ambassador to Tunisia Gordon Gray whether the United States would deliver on its impressive promises of support for Tunisia. He said he was optimistic: “The US will deliver because support for Tunisia is bipartisan. It is not Democratic or Republican. It is American support.”
Members of the Tunisian delegation agreed. Ali Belakhoua, who introduced the Tunisian members of parliament at the National US-Arab Chamber of Commerce, said “the US has tied its political future in the region with the success of Tunisia. The cost of failure is very high.”
Tunisian Finance Minister Slim Chaker was clearly elated after the White House meetings. He opened his remarks to the chamber by saying, “You are not dealing only with Tunisia but with a new democracy and the new US ally”.
The question now being asked, the minister added, is, “What are Tunisians doing to help business and attract investments.”
The answer to this question in the coming months and years will determine the success of the Tunisian model for Washington and the world. Tunisia is once again called upon to show the way.