The Middle East Channel

Meet the new president of Tunisia

Last December, Moncef Marzouki was an exile in Paris railing against President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, whose regime appeared firmly ensconced in Tunis.

What a different a year makes. Marzouki has now reportedly been tapped as the country's next president, where he will oversee the writing of a new constitution -- and it's Ben Ali who's in exile. The reports are still sourced to anonymous officials in Marzouki's party, so nothing is official just yet. However, if they prove true, it will represent an encouraging sign for Tunisia's nascent democracy.

Marzouki, a physician by training, has seemingly studied all his life to guide Tunisia's transition to democracy:  In his youth, as Steve Coll reported for The New Yorker, he traveled to India to study the non-violent methods of Mahatma Gandhi, and subsequently visited South Africa to study its transition from apartheid rule. He was forced into exile after publicly objecting to Ben Ali's show trials targeting Islamist movements in the early 1990s.

Marzouki has also earned a reputation as one of the standard-bearers for secularism in post-Ben Ali Tunisia. His Congress for the Republic party seized 29 seats in the country's Oct. 23 election, becoming the second largest movement on the political scene, by appealing to left-wing, urban voters. At the same time, he has played down fears of the Islamist al-Nahda party, which won a whopping 89 seats in the election, saying that it "is not a threat for democracy."

In an Oct. 19 article for The Guardian , Marzouki laid out his agenda for his country's political future. "Tunisians demand the establishment of a system that will protect future generations from the return of tyranny: a free press, an independent judiciary, and the restoration of balanced development between the regions," he wrote.  "This entails fighting the ill that has eaten into the fabric of society - high unemployment, particularly among educated youth."

If he is selected as president and pursues that agenda, it's a fair bet that Tunisians won't regret the fact that he changed places with Ben Ali.



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