Why Tunisia’s Moncef Marzouki is being unfair

Václav Havel’s play “Leaving” deals with the psychological state of any politician who leaves office and loses power. Havel himself is a seasoned intellectual and politician who became the president of Czechoslovakia before the separation which gave us the Czech Republic and Slovakia. He wrote the play after leaving office; it is a satirical work about a politician who resigned but then refused to give up power.

The play shows the distress of a former governing official whose life and world crashed after he left his post. This reality faces all politicians when they leave office and inevitably compare what the past was with what the present is.

The intellectual has the freedom to express an opinion and to offer criticism; however, the confusion between the political role and the intellectual one is the dilemma. Marzouki adopts a secular ideology and advocates the separation of religion and state. However, he is allied with the Islamist Ennahda party.

Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi

This may lead them to lose balance and vision, and cause them to search for the limelight again through making statements or taking certain positions. In politics, this may be normal but sometimes the opposition must work within the political laws and according to democratic ethics. Former Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki stirred a huge controversy by attacking the United Arab Emirates, claiming that it funds counter-coups in the Middle East, and hates revolutions.

Some reactions to this attack came from Tunisia itself where the Foreign Ministry made it clear that the statements were irresponsible.

Reda Belhaj, head of the Tunisian Presidential Cabinet, said that the aim of such remarks was to confuse the state’s institutions at a time when Tunisia needed the support of all its people; it said that Marzouki was not adjusting to the reality of having left office. Indeed, authority has its glow and whenever the light dims, the leader may become unbalanced. To be fair, Marzouki is a refined writer with a distinguished history of using the powers of his intellect to stand against dictatorship and oppression.

Nonetheless, the everlasting historical dilemma of the hazy relationship between the intellectual and the authority remains present. This relationship produces suspicion and caution and sometimes conflict and hostility. The intellectual plays an enlightening role in society, as it was described by Arab historian Ibn Al-Muqaffa.

A confused role?

Some may interpret the attack as a kind of political striving, where Marzouki confused his role as a former president with his duty as a legal activist. His role as a former president pushed political commitments onto him; he has the right to oppose but not to involve foreign countries in an internal political conflict. The UAE is an important and influential country which has good political and economic relations with Tunisia. Not that the UAE needs defending, but UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash was decisive in his remarks by saying: “Marzouki’s attack on the UAE does not come in the context of political performance. The UAE’s position was, and remains, for the region’s stability and cohesion.”

The UAE, in its political positions, has sought to spare the region from the dangers of extremism, division and internal conflicts. If Marzouki were realistic, what would he say about the scenario that almost ravaged the Arab nation? The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt had bigger goals than Egypt. It led Egypt and the region into danger; the Egyptian people took to the streets on June 30 to regain the lead. What does Marzouki say about Yemen? Is he waiting for it to fall under Houthi domination?

There are strategic positions and there has to be countries fulfilling their leadership roles. The intellectuals are the voice and conscience of the nation; it is wrong to ignore them just to score a political point against a party or to win a political battle. The intellectual has the freedom to express an opinion and to offer criticism; however, the confusion between the political role and the intellectual one is the dilemma. Marzouki adopts a secular ideology and advocates the separation of religion and state. However, he is allied with the Islamist Ennahda party.

As a writer and intellectual, Marzouki is expected to provide the facts objectively, and contribute to an enlightening role in reuniting and strengthening Arab solidarity.

This article first appeared on Arab News Jan. 27, 2016.

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Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi is the editor-in-chief of Sayidaty and al-Jamila magazines. A prominent journalist who worked with Asharq al-Awsat in London and Arab News in KSA, al-Harthi later moved on to establish al-Eqtisadiah newspaper in KSA, in which he rose the position of Editorial Manager. He was appointed editor-in-chief for Arajol magazine in 1997. He won the Gulf Excellence award in 1992. You can follow him on Twitter here: @mfalharthi

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