I was in London this week in support of a visit by President Marzouki and Ennahda Leader Rached Ghannouchi, who were jointly awarded a prize for international statesmanship from the Royal Institute for International Affairs at Chatham House.
The prize has generated some controversy in Tunisia. Members of the political opposition and a number of groups championing women’s rights have expressed concern that it represents support for specific individuals in Tunisian politics and for a for particular political vision for Tunisia’s future.
For me the fact that Chatham House members chose two leading Tunisian politicians with two distinct political ideologies sends three rather different messages.
- It shows that Tunisia, once seen in the UK exclusively as a sunny holiday destination, is now regarded as a leader of a geostrategic change in the Arab region which merits close attention and support;
- It shows that internationally aware citizens in the UK have enormous admiration for the way Tunisia has taken forward an orderly transition to a new, publically accountable, political system;
- And it shows that Chatham House members believe a major factor for further success will be the ability of Tunisia’s political leaders to put their differences aside and engage in dialogue and build consensus.
Chatham House is independent from government, but I see these messages as positive ones.
Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt, who was invited to give the keynote speech , took the opportunity to draw attention both to the impressive achievements made since the revolution and to the importance of addressing the continuing challenges in a spirit of openness and inclusion. To be successful, Tunisia’s political system will need to meet the aspirations of all Tunisians.
I was privileged to join a programme of additional engagements by President Marzouki which further helped boost Tunisia’s visibility in the UK. That will help us keep up the momentum of the UK government’s engagement here.