France will stand by Tunisia, says President Macron

Tunisia – Speech by M. Emmanuel Macron, President of the Republic, at Tunisia’s Assembly of Representatives of the People (excerpts)

Tunisia, 1 February 2018


Tunisian Revolution

It’s with great humility that I’ve come to say a few words to you today. Firstly about what you’ve accomplished and what you’re doing, and the importance I attach to it, and secondly about what France can do, in a modest way, to help you do it. We’ve talked about spring and the Arab Spring. We’ve talked about revolution, and many people think this page has been turned, that it’s in the past, because in our contemporary world we want everything to move so quickly and we want revolutions – especially those we didn’t see coming or didn’t want to see – to be over as soon as they’ve begun.

The page of the Arab Spring and the Tunisian Spring hasn’t been turned. You’re living through it, keeping it alive. And what you’re showing more every day is that Tunisia really is back. A few days ago, I said in another forum that France is back in many areas. Through your action over the past seven years, Tunisia is back too, but it’s back with a difficult job to do and through the actions which you’ve decided on and are taking.

I want to pay tribute here to the courage and strength of the Tunisian people who rose up, and it’s probably no accident that the people rose up here. It’s because Tunisia made the choice – and I’ll come back to this – to educate its people in an unprecedented way, incomparable perhaps with the other countries in the Arab world. Your people rose up, civil society then organized itself when the country had been weakened. I also want to pay tribute to that civil society. At those pivotal moments for the country, the tremendous job done by the Quartet and rewarded with the Nobel prize was an essential gesture, and political society organized itself and forged a constitution, nearly four years ago now.

Throughout those years, because this job was done by the Tunisian people, by organized civil society, by the men and women who made up political society, you led a real cultural revolution. And you made a success of it, and I want to pay a special tribute to you. You made a success of it, just at you had made a success of it in the past. I haven’t forgotten that you’re the great country which decided, even two years before France, to abolish slavery. You didn’t wait for the others.

You succeeded because, at a time when people everywhere thought that a democratic withdrawal was taking root, that we were losing values, that the universalism of certain values we share – freedom of thought or respect for individuals – was being lost, you not only restored them, you wrote, decided on and instituted them. (…)

You succeeded in establishing a civilian state where many people thought it was impossible, and through this cultural and democratic revolution you proved wrong those who, throughout the world, still say today that societies where Islam is present are incompatible with democracy. You showed the opposite and you proved wrong those who, in many regions of the world, also want to have people believe that Islam is there to control the state and that separation isn’t possible. You proved them wrong too. (…)

But this revolution and this spring that began nearly seven years ago are not over. (…)

And your challenge today is to transform that cultural and democratic spring into a political, economic and social spring. The challenge in store for you today, which is essential, is to continue the job started, keep it alive, so that it is a complete success for your country, and so that this success can change Tunisians’ lives and gives the middle and working classes a better quality of life. I think this is the challenge ahead of you today. (…)

And as you recalled a moment ago, Mr President, you have a huge responsibility. Huge if this spring is to continue and produce all these results. Huge if nothing that has been embarked on in the past few years is to be undermined or disrupted. Huge, because in the midst of all the legitimate democratic differences and disagreements you’re highlighting, there’s something which goes above and beyond you: your country’s destiny at this essential moment.

It’s a huge responsibility because the Arab world, the Maghreb and all the shores of the Mediterranean are watching you, watching what you do and need to see you succeed. So given all these challenges and while what has been started is, in the next few months and years, going to be completed by this tremendous work, I want to tell you here that France will do everything it can to help you. (…)

France has no other choice, it cannot want anything other than to see Tunisia – at this historic moment, our moment, which it is living through – ensure that its values, our values prevail and do so here. (…)

Terrorism/Libya/Middle East

So to achieve this, first there’s this essential battle for your security and stability. Terrorism and obscurantism struck you here, at your heart. Over the past few years we’ve experienced the same fate. (…)

This is why France will stand by your side, firstly to fight terrorism actively and exchange more information. (…) But this joint battle against terrorism (…) is a key part of our cooperation to succeed.

Tunisia’s young democracy can’t risk shouldering this issue alone. We’ll be at your side helping you, because this security is essential for you. But we also have a duty to provide your region with this security and stability. I remember when several people decided that the Libyan leader had to be got rid of, we decided at that moment to intervene externally, thousands of kilometres from here, but without having a political plan or some kind of plan for what followed, a few kilometres from here.

Europe, the United States and a few others indisputably have a responsibility when it comes to the current situation, a responsibility which has resulted, whatever we think of a leader, in the idea that we can act as a substitute for the sovereignty of a people in deciding their future – that, basically, deposing a tyrant is enough to resolve all problems. Since then we’ve collectively plunged Libya into anomie, without being able to resolve the situation. (…)

This is why we’ll direct all our energy – as I’ve been doing over the past few months – into restoring political stability in Libya; France fully supports the efforts led by the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, to enable elections to be held in Libya this year so that a stable political solution can restore unity, security and stability to your borders and thus stability for you throughout the region. (…)

These efforts to bring about security and stability are also ones we want to deploy everywhere, from the Maghreb to the Mashriq and the Middle East, by talking, always firmly and frankly, to political powers whose values we don’t share, but above all by being very keen, everywhere, to build and protect the pluralism which allows countries to stand firm, minorities to be respected and thus stability to be preserved.

This is the job we’ve been doing over the past few months in Lebanon and will continue doing in Syria and many other countries. (…) I believe it’s our job today in all those regions not to go and tell people who the right leader is for them, externally – no, that’s always a mistake – but to help inform their sovereign decision and ensure that minorities are respected every time, and that what constitutes our shared values is respected; we’ll continue this work tirelessly in the coming months. (…)


Francophony isn’t a French project. (…) It was a decision by great emancipated nations that wanted to repeat to the world that the French language belonged to them. I had the opportunity to say this a few weeks ago in Ouagadougou; I know all the misunderstandings there are, all the reluctance there is vis-à-vis the French spoken in French-speaking countries.

For a long time, being a true patriot in many countries meant disliking the French language and refusing to speak it. (…) I understood that French no longer belonged to France. Where is the vitality of the French language today? Somewhere on the banks of the Congo River, undoubtedly, it’s firmly in Africa; it’s in the Caribbean, the Pacific, it’s in the desire of the women and men who inherited the language, or chose it, their desire to sustain it and see the language as part of their history, their culture, their identity, but also part of their success. I hope that Francophony will live and breathe to an even greater extent in your country, that Tunisians will support it, because it’s part of you, it’s part of your historical choices, it’s part of your success today and tomorrow. (…)

Do we help young people build their futures if we tell them they mustn’t learn French? No, we do the opposite. Francophony provides an additional opportunity, it’s one of the Mediterranean’s links, because Francophony belongs to you at least as much as it does to France. (…)

Francophony isn’t just about language, it’s about shared culture. Culture has nourished our common ties. Writers, architects, choreographers, film-makers, comedians and actors serve as a daily reminder of this; it’s these individual destinies which sustain the bilateral relationship, and I’d also like us to be able to do more, because this culture is essential for your country’s success, as it is for that of our bilateral relationship. (…)


The tragedy the Mediterranean is experiencing today is that it’s become, for so very many younger or older people, a graveyard, the graveyard of dashed hopes or impossible hopes, because we’ve failed to rebuild hope on the African continent. The solution isn’t to go and explain to Africa that its future lies in France, Germany or Austria, it’s to show our fair share of humanity, and we’ve done this through the decisions France has taken, including last summer, in going to provide protection to all those with the right of asylum, sometimes from Libya, Chad and Niger, and doing everything to ensure that the countries of origin can see their nationals return, and doing everything to dismantle trafficking rings.

But what lies behind this? The need to have a genuinely shared plan to restore a new face to the Mediterranean, the Maghreb and Africa; that’s our real challenge. And when I talk to you about the economy, education and Francophony, I’m saying to you: let’s have an ambitious plan to help you succeed here, let’s have a plan to help our young people, entrepreneurs, politicians and academics travel freely and move around as they choose, but et’s help skilled people remain or return to help the country develop, and let’s break those trafficking in happiness, the clandestine people-smugglers, who are always, unfailingly, linked to terrorists and to those who thrive on misfortune.

Our challenge goes well beyond the bilateral framework. Our challenge is the challenge of this whole Mediterranean area and, more broadly, the challenge of the Arab world and Africa. We must make a success of it together. (…)

Mediterranean strategy

The Maghreb can’t succeed if it remains divided in this way. While the road from East to West doesn’t exist, I’m aware of all the disputes there are, I’m aware of all the reasons not to agree, but I’m also aware of everything the Maghreb’s unity can achieve in terms of choice, strength, and power of opportunity for your young people and your country. And in the coming years, I’d like us to regain the strength of a Maghreb policy. It’s up to you to promote this with all those countries that may share this ambition with you, but in this context France may play a useful role, namely to rediscover the meaning of a genuine Mediterranean strategy; we’ve tried it several times in our history. (…)

This year I’d like France to host an initial meeting of leaders, but also civil society, young people, academics from a few European Mediterranean countries and Maghreb countries, and I’d like us to see one another, talk to one another, decide together if there’s a common strategy for the Mediterranean. (…)

We have a challenge, we’re looking at the same sea, and as I was telling you, this sea has become a graveyard for so very many families. Why has it become a graveyard? Because of our selfishness, because we’ve withdrawn into ourselves, because we’ve allowed obscurantism and peddlers of hatred to thrive. So if we’re to have a common policy, it’s a policy of intentional movement, shared projects, shared languages, a culture that is championed, common interpretations and myths, but also common ambition for our future.

We must rebuild, rediscover Mediterranean heroes and a genuine ambition for the Mediterranean, and do so together. (…)./.

Published on 15/02/2018

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