Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Tunisian President Kais Saied Before Their Meeting

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It’s a great pleasure to be able to see the president of Tunisia, President Saied.  Mr. President, welcome.  Very good to have you here.  We have a longstanding partnership between the United States and Tunisia, the Tunisian people.  And it’s one to which the United States attaches great importance.

We have a broad agenda.  I’m grateful that the president is here.  We’ll no doubt be talking about our support for inclusive, transparent elections, the economic program that’s so important to the future of the Tunisian people, and we very much look forward to being able to work together in that direction and to make sure that the diverse voices in Tunisia are fully represented in its future.

But there’s a strong partnership between our countries, and a longstanding commitment of the United States to work in partnership with Tunisia.  Mr. President, thank you for being here today.  Thank you for being in Washington.

PRESIDENT SAIED:  (Via interpreter) I talked to you in the past in French when we talked on the phone.  Today, I cannot talk to you in French, given the presence of so many people here who can neither speak French or Arabic.  Therefore, we deal with all languages without any complaints. And among the proof of this is the Francophone summit that was held on the island of Djerba, and it met resounding success in Tunisia, and it does bear witness to the fact that Tunisia is a Mediterranean country and it has always remained, as usual, to entertain good relations with the northern shore of Europe and with its allies in the United States of America as well.

This is a good opportunity to talk about the authenticity of the bonds tying the two countries.  And yesterday, when I visited the Library of the Congress, I talked about the longstanding relations that exist between both countries.  I also talked about the recognition of Tunisia of the United States of America after the independence, and also I talked about the recognition of the United States Government of the Tunisian independence as one of the first countries.  And this is in addition to what the United States has done before that in supporting the independence of Tunisia.  And the visits have been so many to the United States ever since, where we have enjoyed huge support for the Tunisian independence after that.  We shall not forget this at all.

Tunisia did enjoy full support from the United States, especially in the areas of health and education, either directly from the United States Government or notably with the World Bank group, and also the USAID between the two countries.

It was a real revolution in Tunisia through education and through the entrusting by the state of the public – the major public services.  Indeed, we have the impact of this revolution at the level of education, at the level of health.  And when the public authorities were entrusted with the major commodities which are part and parcel of the human rights by the end of the day.  We also talked about the authentic relations that has existed ever since, and I have brought with me here a certain number of documents from Tunisia about the first American flag, how it was made to show how the countries are built and how the nations are built as well.  I also reiterated the preamble and American constitution, some short sentences, but quite meaningful to achieve the joy and the happiness of people.

And yesterday I talked about this.  And as the lady we met, the counselor for Social Security for President Jimmy Carter, he said, well, I’m not looking for the PNB, but we’re looking for the BNB, that is, the gross national happiness.  The words that we are looking for, the international – the gross international happiness, be it at the international or national levels.

For Tunisia, its international experience is quite authentic and deeply rooted in our history.  We had constitutions from Carthage to the fundamental pact in 1861, and the first constitution to be drafted in the Arab world and that dates back to 1861.  After that, we witnessed the era during which Tunisian nationals asked for constitution to guarantee the rights and liberties and to pave the way for the nation.  And this has been achieved eventually – after independence on the 1st of June 1959, more specifically.

And after the revolution and after the boom that Tunisia witnessed in 2010 and 2011, we have thought seriously of drafting constitution.  But the – unfortunately the constitution that was drafted, it was quite customized to serve the needs of a specific category.  It’s as if it was a garment or a pair of shoes, and that was the outcome of the election and the ballots that were adopted, which was the ballot on the list, by implementing the representative – the partial representativity and the biggest residue.  And as (inaudible) said in France when we adopted this kind of ballot system, he said that it is the ballot of shame.  We were voting in the dark, and nobody was aware of the outcome of these elections.

Unfortunately, rather than meeting the needs of the Tunisians at that time, and especially in economic and social terms – because there were some economic and social terms which are quite hard up to this very moment.  And things have also exacerbated.  And then we have also adopted constitution to serve the authority, and this has broken down, unfortunately, all of the political institutions.  More than that, we have a corruption that has exacerbated – let me mention here with regards to the low – related to the supreme – the constitutional court in Tunisia, the only voice in the assembly who was sold for 150,000 dinars – about 100,000 dollars – that’s for one seat, and there were a number – I say this to my friends who saw that to unveil the truth.  There were a number of MPs whose immunity has been lifted after the 25th of July.  They were members of the smuggling networks and they were deep involved in a moral crisis and issues.  This is in addition to the funds that were distributed on the occasion of making every rule, every project.

The economic situation, and the financial situation, and the corruption, and notably the blows that were dealt to the justice system, because the best way is legal and independent justice, but here, unfortunately, these people were involved in the courts.  And as one of the French writers said – here I’m talking about the French experience specifically, and he expressed himself in French – when the politics does of course come into the territory, justice would come out, and this – when the politicians would sit on the armchairs, people would exacerbate, and of course, (inaudible) would leave its premises and it’d be transformed into problems of retaliation and reprisals.  We wouldn’t like to be a court of retaliation or of reprisals, but we would like a court that is based on justice and equity.

And on several occasions, I use this opportunity to ask you to visit us in Carthage, Tunisia.  We did receive so many MPs in Carthage asking to dissolve the parliament.  One of them were bleeding in the front head, and about 10 – I don’t memorize the number, but many of them from the MPs, they were asking to dissolve the parliament.  This is in addition to the fact that the claims that came from the Tunisian nationals at that time wherever I went, they were all asking to dissolve the parliament.

So I eventually decided to dissolve the parliament.  That was not feasible for me because I would like to abide by the constitution that was adopted in 2014, so I decided to rather freeze the parliament at that time.  Why?  Because the country was on the brink of civil war all over the country, so I had no other alternative but to save the Tunisian nation from undertaking any nasty action.

And let me mention here that on the 24th of June, I – 2021 – I went to visit one of the cities, the city of Redeyef in the government of Gafsa in the south of – the southwest of Tunisia.  I went to see that, and it was hit by the COVID-19 that was widespread at that time.  I went to visit a public hospital.  In that hospital there was no water, and no electricity, and no oxygen.  This is on the 25th of July, and, of course, I was using the legal devices available at that time, but they were trying to buy out the harms and the illnesses of people, and, of course, the media were simply mentioning the number of victims on the 25th of July, and I was of course quite sad about this.  And I couldn’t even accept people to die in front of my eyes when other people are playing havoc with the Tunisian institutions.

So I took the decision on the basis of article 80 of the constitution of 2014 to freeze the action of the parliament, and I also invited the head of government – I told him I would like to be present on my side here to preserve your dignity.  But on the basis of the constitution, I have to take advice, so I took advice, the opinion of the speaker, because he was quite old.  And I phoned him so that – to avoid his moving to the palace.  That was 8:00 p.m.  So I told him that I’m going to use article 80 and dissolve the parliament, and to take some exceptional measures in this regard.

People took out to the street on that very night, on the 25th of July, 2011.  They were so happy and so joyful, as if they were getting rid of a real nightmare.  And the situations at that time remained as they are.  And what do these people did?  They organized a totally unacceptable decision by all standards.