President Moncef Marzouki welcomed 35 Columbia University master’s students in economics and business to the presidential palace in Carthage today.
The group of “future entrepreneurs,” as the presidency referred to the U.S. students, expressed their affinity for the Tunisian revolution, pointing to what they perceived as a strong element of youth leadership in the month-long struggle against the former regime. Moreover, they sought to know more about the country’s political future from the president himself.
Marzouki described Tunisia’s situation as “complex” due to both the internal challenges and the intense external scrutiny over the country’s political transition. Tunisia is expected to set an example for the rest of the region influenced by the Arab Spring, he said, and such a pressure only gives Tunisia the choice between “succeeding and succeeding.”
The president considered the drafting of the constitution as the interim government’s top priority. It must encompass the entire spectrum of Tunisian society, Marzouki stressed, without serving the needs of one community at the expense of another such as is happening in Egypt.
The government finds its task to be paradoxical for it has to “take [its] time, yet hurry up,” the president pointed out.
“The level of people’s expectations is high. They expect us to perform miracles. We need to be gods, but we are just human beings,” Marzouki said.
The president described himself as a “pessi-optimist,” one who believes in the ultimate success of Tunisia’s political transition yet remains cognizant of the “huge challenges” along the road.
Transitional justice is one of the building blocks of the democractization process, and Tunisia can learn from the experiences of multiple countries, such as South Africa, Portugal, and Poland, he said.
“I can assure you that we are good students and learn very easily.”
Yet, those experiences will serve to inspire rather than to be repeated, specified Marzouki, who aims to create an improved “Tunisian model.”
The personnel in the current interim government is still learning how to be part of country’s new democratic system, said the president.
“People were used to obeying orders and keeping their mouths shut. The democratic state does not accept such practices, and therefore we have a new freedom of expression and even the freedom of insult, which is difficult to accept.”
The 35 Columbia students, who will graduate this year, arrived in Tunisia on Tuesday, January 15, with the goal of launching the American-Tunisian Business Council, which is to include businessmen and politicians of both countries.
Having such a contingent of young Americans visit post-revolutionary Tunisia will help “rebuild a true and meaningful relationship” between the two countries, emphasized Marzouki during the students’ visit.
Following Marzouki’s discourse, Columbia students spoke of their conviction that Tunisia can attract more investments as it continues its political transition.
“What was notable for us is the great potential to create a stable economy… The current downfall is understandable because after a revolution everything gets worse before it gets better,” Columbia student Randal Rainosek told Tunisia Live.
“I think Tunisia holds more investment opportunities than we know… like Asia, which was an emerging market a few years ago,” another student, Yael Silzerstein, said to Tunisia Live.