LectureHop: The Prime Minister of Tunisia

Written by

blurry creeper shot
blurry creeper shot

blurry creeper shot

It’s been/will be an eventful week for campus. Last night, Bwogger Tatini Mal-Sarkar saw the prime minister of Tunisia, Mehdi Jomaa, speak and promptly bragged about it to anyone and everyone within a 250-foot radius.

On the first truly bright day of the year, College Walk was populated by half the student body, as well as a full line of unidentifiable black town cars. The reason? Only the prime minister of the country whose revolution arguably set off the Arab Spring.

The prime minister of Tunisia spoke yesterday in Uris Hall through the Business School, in conjunction with the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life, the Institute of African Studies, and the Middle East Institute. The doors were flanked by university officials, and by five till, the room was saturated with air kisses and excited whispers in French. Audience members of note included the Tunisian minister of higher education, minister of foreign affairs, and ambassador to the UN, amongst others.

At six sharp, the program commenced, and the entire room stood up as Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa walked in. He started with a brief speech explaining the basics of the situation in Tunisia, beginning with the storm of political turmoil that the revolution set off in 2011. He spoke to the roots of the uprising, attesting it primarily to economic rather than political reasons; the politics, he said, became much more important later in the process. The overview also emphasized the significance of social media, especially Facebook and Twitter.

Though he purported to “speak from the heart,” Jomaa had several key points that he returned to over and over again. He repeatedly described the moderation that characterizes the Tunisian people, describing his government’s main goal as “to lead the country to fair elections.” Accordingly, extremist groups have no place in the country, mainly because there’s no real audience. Jomaa said this relative temperateness was what made Tunisia vulnerable, since it had never before had to face such appeal. However, he continued, these groups have been defeated, and “it’s safer each day than it was before.” Jomaa’s other main point was the fruitfulness of Tunisia’s relationship with the United States. The very next words out of his mouth touted Tunisian tourism, endearingly joking, “Each time I am in California, it reminds me of Tunisia.” This stress on US-Tunisia relations also colored the remainder of the event, as did France-Tunisia relations.

Relatively quick was the description of actual changes that will occur or are occurring in the government. He acknowledged the pragmatic need for short term issues, later describing them as “quick wins.” He also favored change in the treatment of inland areas, especially the banking system, and increasing the role of private companies in the economy.

In perhaps one of the most memorable lines of the initial speech, Jomaa said, “For reforms, you need some sacrifice,” a term that he later backed away from during the ensuing Q&A session. When asked about the media’s role in promoting sacrifice (presented as “work[ing] more and get[ting] less”),  he said merely that the government cannot expect to control the media for its own purposes. Other highlights from the Q&A session included an ostensible softball question that allowed the prime minister to discuss Tunisia’s geographic role as the intersection of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, making it a potential “hub for foreign investors.” A good portion of the remainder of the questions handled the issue of security, specifically the inherent conflict between political stability and democracy. One questioner posited the risk of a police state, to which Jomaa responded, “There is need for police.” He continued, “You won’t find police in New York.”

Another particularly pointed question asked Jomaa about the timeline of elections. Though he affirmed a commitment to elections by the end of the year, he distanced himself from actual liability, saying outright, “As prime minister, I’m not responsible for organizing [the elections].” Several of the questions addressed the issue of real transformation after the prior regime, particularly with regards to the investment code, and while Jomaa mentioned some already enacted some changes, he primarily acknowledged the inability to instigate all the necessary changes in such a short period (“I will need at least ten years to do the job”—said as a joke, but as with all jokes, containing some iota of truth).

Despite the overabundance of questions left, the event ended promptly at seven. Not to be deterred, much of the audience, i.e. photographers and journalists, remained. As I peered over my shoulder for a parting glance of international fame and renown, Mehdi Jomaa disappeared in a whirlwind of furious snaps and shutters.

Tags: , , , , ,

© 2006-2015 Blue and White Publishing Inc.