Moncef Marzouki, the physician and human rights activist who became president of Tunisia after the Arab Spring swept out the country’s longtime dictator, is a hot ticket at this year’s United Nations General Assembly. And why not?
Mr. Marzouki, 69, leads one of the only countries in the Arab world that is not riven by sectarian strife, tribal feuds, jihadist insurgency or American military intervention. Tunisia is two months away from its first popular election for the presidency since the revolution. Mr. Marzouki, who was elected interim president in late 2011, is one of about 30 candidates for the job.
An island of stability amid the furies of Libya, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Yemen, Tunisia is an attractive model for Westerners. Mr. Marzouki, who is devoting part of this annual trip to the General Assembly to selling foreign investors on his country, happily supplies some theories.
“People are asking me all the time: Why is the outcome so different in Tunisia than in Syria?” he said this week at the Council on Foreign Relations. “I think it is because of structural reasons.”
Tunisia, Mr. Marzouki said, has few of the tribal or religious cleavages of its neighbors. It is a predominantly middle-class Muslim country with a well-educated population and a developed economy. In a testament to the national consensus, he said, the country was able to hammer out a new Constitution without rancor.
When Mr. Marzouki was asked whether Tunisia had a problem with violence toward women, he deftly called on Mabrouka M’Barek, a young female member of the Constituent Assembly, who said there was always room for improvement but noted that the Tunisian Constitution guaranteed women equality and parity.
And yet, for all his pride in the path Tunisia has taken since the Arab Spring, Mr. Marzouki voiced fear, both for the short term and long term. He worries that extremists will try to disrupt the election over the next 60 days, perhaps by assassinating one of the candidates. Two opposition leaders were killed last year by assassins with links to Al Qaeda.
“We do know we are targeted by terrorists because terrorists, they don’t want Tunisia to be a success story,” he said. “They want Tunisia to be part of the Arab chaos.”