Wided Bouchamaoui: We must not mix religion with politics

One of the most influential people in Tunisian democratic transition is Ouided Bouchamaoui, 55, the first female president of the largest businessowners’ association in the country Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicraft. With the National Dialogue Quartet, an alliance of four influential civil society groups, she helped lead Tunisia toward democracy after the Jasmine Revolution that oversaw the demise of a policestate in 2011.

Initially, Tunisia’s transition to democracy was not smooth. The Islamic party Ennahda that won the first elections after dictator Zine alAbidine Ben Ali was toppled was blamed for poor economic performance and for not controlling attempts to Islamize the country, culminating in the assassination of two secular politicians. Clashes ensued.

Seeing their country in the brink of collapse, the Tunisian General Labour Union, the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicraft, the Tunisian Human Rights League and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers formed the National Dialogue Quartet in 2013. Throughout lengthy negotiations, the group succeeded in persuading the ruling government to resign and adopt their roadmap, a series of steps for implementing democracy in the country.

Held as a best practice on how to resolve conflict and preserve democracy, they have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015. Bouchamaoui said that her countrymen are very proud of their very first Nobel. “It is particular that our experience was 100 percent Tunisian made product without any intervention,” she said.

Purwani Diyah Prabandari, Sadika Hamid, Raymundus Rikang and photographer Nurdiansah from Tempo met Bouchamaoui at the Plaza Indonesia for almost one hour. She was accompanied by the Tunisian Ambassador for Indonesia Mourad Belhassen. Bouchamaoui came to Indonesia to share her experience and to attend the Bali Democracy Forum on December 89, 2016.

After your fight for democracy in the last few years, are you satisfied with the latest situation in Tunisia?

I think we are in the right way. We succeeded in having democracy in Tunisia. We have free media, a modern constitution and now of course, we are looking to have a better way of life in Tunisia. We have focused our effort on how to develop the economy, to have more investments in Tunisia, and to have more jobs.

Why did the transition to democracy in Tunisia run more smoothly than in the other Arab Spring countries? 

We chose the way of dialogue. We chose the way of listening to each other, and changing our minds. We respect each other, and there is the big role of the civil society, the high level education of our youth and the Tunisian women.

Who initiated the dialogue and the formation of the National Quartet who led the transition process?

The four (civil society groups) started together. When we experienced the second assassination (of a secular politician), we were in the hospital. I remember that we called each other to say, “Let’s meet. Let’s find a solution for Tunisia. Let’s say to people, ‘Don’t be afraid, we’ll be with you and we’ll find something for you’.” We decided that the politicians could not sit together and (we should make them) aware that Tunisia needs a peaceful solution. We set up a roadmap and the majority of the parties signed it.

What did the National Quartet draw in the roadmap?

First, we asked the government to leave and designate a new technocratic democratic government. Second, we asked the assembly to finish writing our constitution in less than one year. Third, we asked for a Tunisian institution to control the elections. Also, the replacement of several governors.

But in the beginning, it must not have been easy to bridge the differences among groups in the Quartet, especially when you have long been at odds with the labor union.

You are right. Before beginning our national dialogue, we held a specific dialogue with the unions. We began a new way of working together, and we showed the politicians how two conflicting organizations can sit together.

Then, how did the team persuade all the parties to sit together, while at the same time asking the government to leave?

Maybe because we have very strong personalities [laughing]. We just said to them that we must think about our country and show others that we are different, and we choose the right way, to peace. It was so difficult. We spent six months to convince (them). It was not so easy. We also got pressure from civil society, the media and especially the Tunisian citizens. (*)


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