“The World Tomorrow (Episode 3: Moncef Marzouki)” (Russia Today, 1 May 2012)
In this episode, Julian Assange interviews Moncef Marzouki, the President of Tunisia and a former human rights activist who was imprisoned by previous President Ben Ali in 1993. The underlying theme of the interview is how Marzouki will stay true to his ideals and continue to champion freedom, democracy, openness and accountability, and govern Tunisia effectively in a world of hypocritical Realpolitik. In contrast to Episode 2, this third installment is very low on pyrotechnics: Marzouki is a cool, calm and articulate speaker and his manner is gentle and courteous.
Assange begins by asking Marzouki about how he survived prison which included four months in solitary confinement, and gradually moves onto questions about openness in Tunisian society and what role Marzouki will play in encouraging that openness and accountability, then onto issues of regional North African / Middle Eastern importance such as the political turmoil in Syria and the possibility of Tunisia giving asylum to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It is intriguing that Marzouki prefers to sidestep talking about Bahrain, an equally oppressive state as Syria but supported by Tunisia, and criticises Hezbollah’s Secretary General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah for supporting al-Assad and considering Israel’s government and its actions as the greater threat to political stability in the Middle East. One might wonder if Marzouki has his priorities right in downplaying Israel’s role in fomenting discord between itself and its neighbours. Surely if Marzouki is still committed to supporting human rights and condemning governments that violate them, he should be just as harsh on the Bahraini government as he is on the Syrian government?
Further into the interview, Marzouki admits as President that he has limited political powers which often clash with and compromise his beliefs as a human rights activist.
Other questions Marzouki dodges include one on recent Tunisian government censorship of the Internet in Tunisia and whether he is willing to open past intelligence files to the general public. It is curious that he would open secret intelligence archives to historians but not to the people on the basis that such knowledge could be dangerous and lead to personal vendettas over issues that can never be healed … why not throw open the files to the public and at the same time initiate a reconciliation process in which crimes can be forgiven and appropriate compensation be made?
The issue of double standards in relation to the United States’ stand on human rights, co-existing as it does with that country’s recent record on torture and illegal incarceration of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay prison, is raised briefly. Marzouki notes an occasion where he was invited to the United States to speak on human rights issues and meet a person in the White House whom he suspected to be implicated in Guantanamo Bay prison abuses. Naturally he refused to meet this person but I wonder if he had met him and agreed to make public speeches … wouldn’t it have made some impact on the American public if Marzouki had met the person and told him off for his hypocrisy and for having blood on his hands?
The questions Assange asks are not very searching or challenging to Marzouki and the journalist frequently gives Marzouki the benefit of the doubt. Curiously he doesn’t throw any curveball questions to Marzouki in the way he did to Nasrallah. Assange accepts Marzouki as a genuine democrat who consciously strives to live up to his ideals every day as President. Assange doesn’t realise that by dodging the issue of Bahrain’s treatment of dissidents, Marzouki has already shown himself as compromised and perhaps dependent on the US and other Western powers for political survival.