Skip to content

Hillary Clinton Town Hall in Tunisia

March 20, 2011

This video is very poor quality but it’s still a great event and she discusses the Middle East and Libya in detail:

MODERATOR: (In Arabic.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first of all, I am so thrilled to be back here in Tunis, and to have this opportunity to see the new Tunisia, and to know that the people in this audience and everyone watching, and this station, played a role in bringing democracy and freedom to the people of Tunisia. And I thank you for showing President Obama at the State of the Union, when the entire congress gave Tunisia a standing ovation. And now I have come to express not only our solidarity and support, but to look for ways that we can be very much in assistance to everything you are doing, politically and economically. So it is wonderful to be back in Tunisia.

Well, I think, in the United States, Americans believed that eventually there would be a great awakening of freedom across North Africa and the Middle East. But we did not know when, and we could not predict how. Shortly before your revolution actually succeeded, I spoke in Doha at a conference and said that the regimes in the region were sinking into the sand, that they did not have the support of their people, they were not delivering for their people. But I had no idea that Tunisia would light this awakening. And you have given so much, not only to those in this region, but far beyond. The revolution here has begun the democratic transformation.

And it is my great hope that Tunisia will be the model democracy for the 21st century, because the revolution is just the beginning. And the hard work of building a democracy, I will say, is not as dramatic as the revolution. It takes place in offices and homes and schools and government buildings. It is often frustrating, speaking as someone who has been involved in the political life of my country. But that is what now lies ahead. And everyone must be involved in order to realize the aspiration.

(Song plays.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Words do change the world. And words can spark both good and bad reactions. Words can be used to manipulate people or liberate people. Words can be used to oppress or to uplift. And the words coming from Tunisia during those amazing historic days were words that were really rooted in a sense of human possibility, of freedom, of human rights and democracy, dignity. And the only way you could get there was to say, “Leave.” And the leaving was an important end to the beginning that everyone recognized something very dramatic and important had happened, not just in Tunisia, but in the world. And you have seen the contagion. It’s the Tunisian contagion. It’s a good kind of contagion, because people the world over are looking to you and to say, “We have a peaceful revolution. We turned over the old regime, threw out those who had corrupted the meaning of words, and have opened a new chapter in Tunisian history.”

So, for those of looking from the United States, it was very exciting and it was very inspiring. And now, I came because I wanted to see and hear for myself what’s next, because there are so many more words that are waiting. Because democracy is not just an election. Democracy is building institutions, is convincing people to work together even when it’s hard, respecting the rights of those with whom you differ. I ran very hard to be president of the United States against President Obama. And he won and I lost, and then he asked me to work with him. And many people around the world said, “How could you work with someone who you tried to defeat?” And the answer was very simple: We both love our country. So we decided we would work together, because in a democracy you don’t always get your own way, you don’t always win the elections. And those are sometimes hard lessons because the euphoria of being in the streets gives way to grinding every day to make the system work to produce good results for the majority of people.

And in my conversations with the president, with the prime minister, and the foreign minister today, I was so encouraged because the words I heard were very practical words, very specific words about how to run free and fair elections, about how to bring economic opportunity and jobs to young people who felt left out of their own society. So it was a wonderful visit for me, and we’re going to do everything we can to translate today’s words into actions.

QUESTION: (In Arabic.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: My goal was first to listen because this is not an American revolution, this is a Tunisian revolution. And your democracy will not be our democracy, it will be rooted in your history, your traditions, your hopes. But the United States is the oldest democracy in the world, so we have some experience in doing what is necessary to build and keep a democracy. And we’ve worked with countries around the world who started with the same enthusiasm that Tunisia is starting with, and then somebody hijacked the process. There was one election, and then that was the end of elections. Somebody got elected, and they said, “Well, we know everything, so we’re never going to have another election,” or the democratic process began to exclude certain people, often women, which I’m told will never happen in Tunisia, which I love to hear.

And so, what I was interested in is hearing the plan, offering as much support as was appropriate that you wish to have, explaining how we have provided assistance to run a free and fair election to help train candidates, to help people understand how to put political parties together, all the things that go into making up a vigorous democracy. So I came away at the end of the day with a very positive feeling.

But it’s not just about the politics, because what sparked the Tunisian contagion was a terrible incident of a young man taking his own life out of such desperation because he saw no future. And the economics of this, opening up the system, creating more entrepreneurs, people like those who started this station and more businesses, employ more young people who are educated. So we talk a lot about information technology jobs. I think Tunisia is right for that. I also think Tunisia could have an amazing future as a renewable energy exporter. And I just looked at all of what I was being told, and I got even more excited. So I came away feeling like it was a lot of good ideas, and we are very prepared to help you translate those into action.

MODERATOR: Okay, (inaudible) question from the public from the (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) As it’s known, everybody’s upset about what’s going on in Libya. Why is it taking so long for the United States to make a decision? And do you want Muammar Qadhafi to stay in power or do you want an elected president? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: That question is very (inaudible) to answer. (Laughter.) First of all, the United States is supporting action by the Security Council. I think it is very important that everyone understands that in the Obama Administration we want to be part of the international community. We do not want to be acting unilaterally, unless it’s a direct threat to the United States, which of course, any country then would do so. But in general, we want to be a part of the international order, and we strongly supported the first Security Council resolution. But it didn’t go far enough, and it did not have the effect that we were hoping for.

So as we are speaking here at Tunis, there is a debate going on in the Security Council right now to see if we can get more authority. And the Arab League statement last Saturday, which Tunisia supported, was unprecedented because the Arab League said, “We are willing for the Security Council to authorize action against a member state.” That was a turning point for so many countries. And it freed up the United States to be able to say, “We are working with France and with the United Kingdom and with other members of the Security Council to try to get more authority that will give us more actions that we can take against Qadhafi.” Because we want to protect civilians, and we want to support the opposition, which is bravely standing against a ruthless dictator who has no conscience and will destroy anyone or anything in his way.

So, we definitely would like to see a democracy come to Libya. And yet, at the same time, we know that, unless the Security Council authorizes further action, it will be very difficult for the opposition. And we will do everything we can to try to get that authority so that others, including the United States, can take appropriate measures to try to protect civilians and prevent Qadhafi from overrunning the opposition.

QUESTION: (In Arabic.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, actually, I think that our position has remained the same: Qadhafi must go. And our actions have been aimed at the same goal, which is to determine how far the international community was willing to authorize us and others, because I want to repeat we do not want to get the position where people question why we do what we do. Because that is not good for the United States; it’s not good for the world. When we act, we want to act with international partners. We want very much to have Arab leadership and participation in whatever the Security Council authorizes.

So our position has remained the same. President Obama was very clear: Qadhafi must go. And, of course, if you have a leader who recruits mercenaries and pays them one or two thousand dollars a day, the opposition, no matter how great, is going to be at a disadvantage. If you have a leader who’s willing to bomb his own people, the opposition, which is not armed with anything that can protect against that, is going to be in danger. So our goal at the Security Council today is to convince the Security Council to authorize more action, including a no-fly zone, but other actions as well, and then to see how many countries are willing to actually do what the Security Council has authorized them to do.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Qadhafi much. (Laughter.) (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we accept that. I think it’s especially important for Tunisia and Egypt, because you’ve seen what has happened on your borders. And I have to compliment Tunisia. In the midst of your own transition, Tunisia has been so generous in helping the refugees on the border. I stopped at the Red Crescent Center this morning, and we’ve been helping the Red Crescent, we’ve been helping your government, we’ve been helping the international community with funding to take care of the refugees. But Tunisia knows very well that if Qadhafi does not go, he will most likely cause trouble for you, for Egypt, and for everybody else. That is just his nature. (Laughter.) There are some creatures that are like that. (Laughter.)

So we have to be aware of that, and we know that there is no good choice here. If you don’t try to take him out, if you don’t support the opposition, and he stays in power, you cannot predict what he will do. Now, if he does go, like if tomorrow there were no Qadhafi, it’s very unclear what will replace him. So that is also a worry for Tunisia and Egypt. So there is no good choice here. Unfortunately, the man has destroyed the institution.

Tunisia labored under a dictator for so many years, but your culture, your institutions, your historical, cultural memory was so strong that, following the revolution, you found your voice, you began to move forward again. And economically and educationally, you have made so much progress, despite the oppression. I mean, Libya is just in such a dreadful state because of his horrible leadership over, what, 42 years. And so Libya is going to need a lot of help.

QUESTION: (In Arabic.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think any country is guided by its values, its interests, and its security, any country. And different countries define those according to how they see the world and see themselves. And there’s always a measuring going on. But the United States has never strayed from our values, but we have made choices over time that we couldn’t get involved everywhere, we could not be constantly trying to change other people to suit us.

So yes, we have dealt with many regimes. We deal with regimes today that we don’t agree with. We deal with China, and we criticize them on a regular basis because of their violation of human rights and freedom of speech and freedom of religion and so much else. But we deal with them. I mean, that is reality. But we never stop saying they should change. And we’ve never stopped saying that even countries that we have a longstanding relationship with in this region of the world are immune from change. And we have tried to tell them, publicly and privately, that they needed to change if they expected to be strong into the 21st century.

And you proved that here in Tunisia. You proved that if you don’t listen to the people, you don’t respond to their needs, you don’t build a democracy, that is not true stability. So we will constantly speak out for values, but I will be very honest with you, we will also deal with countries whose leaders we do not agree with. And that is something that every country does. It would be – you would have a very small foreign policy if you only dealt with countries you agreed with, because there are so many countries in the world that are doing things that we personally think are bad for them and their future, but we have to get along in the world and we have to work with them.

MODERATOR: (Inaudible) in Tunisia. (Inaudible) an Internet question. (Inaudible).

QUESTION: Hello. First of all, welcome to Tunisia. I have a question from the Internet from Mr. Mohammad (inaudible). He’s from (inaudible) in Tunisia, and his question is: What are the possibilities to import the (inaudible) and scholarship program for Tunisian students who want to (inaudible) United States?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Excellent question, and the president and the prime minister raised that question with me today. And I’m going to work to increase the number of students that can study in the United States – undergraduate, graduate, professional degrees. We want to do more in science and technology exchanges with Tunisia, and we’ll look for opportunities to do that. We are also hoping to have a partnership that would be headed by some of our biggest companies like Microsoft that will really try to provide continuing training, outreach opportunities for people who are already in the workforce. So we want to be creative.

And one of the things that I would ask Nessma is, if you could keep the Internet open after we finish our conversation, if anyone in the audience wants to suggest something that would be a good idea, I could get all of those from you if you will forward them to me. And we will also answer questions that we don’t get to during the course of this program because one of the – (applause) – one of the strongest assets that Tunisia has is a well-educated society. Now, it’s also a challenge because I think I was told today that you graduate 30,000 a year or more. More? Seventy-thousand. Seventy-thousand a year.

But you don’t have jobs yet for everyone graduating. And so we need to provide you with some ideas from elsewhere in the world about how other countries have dealt with this. And some of it is related to education, but some of it is related to being creative about new jobs, like we mentioned Facebook. Facebook didn’t exist a few years ago, and a young – a couple of young Americans – if you saw Social Network – (laughter) – created Facebook.

And the other point I wanted to make is that when I became Secretary of State, I said that I did not want to be a Secretary of State who only met with government officials. You see me land in a country, you see me stand with a president or a prime minister or a foreign minister, and then you see me leave. And that is not for me, and that is not for President Obama and what we were trying to do. We wanted much more people-to-people connection like this program. And so we set up a unit inside the State Department to go through social media so that we could begin to reach out. So that we’ve done things like using Facebook for helping demonstrators in Iran who were being cut out of any way to communicate by that ruthless government that, unfortunately, is keeping them down. We now have Twitter feeds in Farsi and Arabic and many other languages. So we want to be able to cut through governments and talk directly to people and have it be a two-way conversation.

QUESTION: (In Arabic.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we have watched with great appreciation as King Mohammed VI has been reforming all along. The announcements that were made last week were in addition to what has already happened, and farther reaching. So we very much applaud the direction that Morocco is moving. We think that’s exactly the right approach to take, that leaders who are sincere about responding to the needs of their people and trying to get ahead on what’s needed politically and economically in today’s world are going to be much more successful. So we will support what Morocco is doing and in every way send a message that that is a much better model than what we are seeing elsewhere.

QUESTION: Madam Clinton, we’re going to talk about the biggest problem of the Maghreb. (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we have supported the United Nations process because we think that it is only through a mediation that involves the interested parties – obviously, Morocco and Algeria – but most importantly, the people of the Western Sahara. And we want to see a peaceful resolution of the longstanding conflict there. It’s especially important, though, to – and your question is a very good one, because in today’s world, political solutions about economic integration are not likely to be satisfying. You can have all the words you want to tell people they get to vote and see whether they want to be autonomous or they get to vote to elect representatives, but if you don’t have an economic strategy, people will be – they will be left feeling like it didn’t work. They will be left (inaudible), if you will, which is why what you’re doing has to be both political and economic reform.

So I think your point is a good one. The U.S. process is predominantly a political process, but I think the economic one has to be (inaudible).

QUESTION: (In Arabic.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think we would be very (inaudible) exploring additional trade opportunities with Tunisia. I think Tunisia is so strategically located, and now that you are on the path to democracy and the end of corruption — at least a lot less corruption – (laughter) – there’s probably – I don’t know any society in the world that has zero corruption, but there is corruption, and then there’s corruption. (Laughter.) And to get it to a low, low level that is held accountable and people are prosecuted and don’t get taken advantage of, so no one feels that, unless you’re connected or related, you can’t be successful.

So yes, I think what Tunisia is now doing makes it a candidate for much greater economic integration. The rest of the Maghreb, we have to see. Let’s see what happens in Libya, for example. But I believe Tunisia is a candidate for much more economic and cooperation with the United States. And I would certainly look to see what we can do to liven that up.

QUESTION: But let’s talk about Algeria.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, let’s talk about Algeria.

QUESTION: (In Arabic.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we were very pleased to see the lifting of the emergency rule, and yet we don’t think that will be enough. There needs to be more. But we’re supporting the process. We want to see Algerians themselves determine how they’re going to make greater space for political speech and for opposition, for more economic integration and entrepreneurial development. So, we know that there is a list of steps that are more likely to increase the success of the reform efforts, and we hope to see that in the weeks and months ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) My question is: Is your government going to help Tunisia, Tunisian economy, to overcome this difficult period to end (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes. We have a number of programs that we discussed with the government. The prime minister told me that the government is in the process of putting together an emergency plan for short-term action and then a longer-term plan for what needed to be done in the next several years. I think that’s a very good approach. And so, obviously, we want to be supportive of what you want to do, so let me tell you some of the things we discussed today.

We have an organization – and the head of it is here somewhere – the Overseas Private Investment Corporation known as OPIC. I brought the head of the OPIC group with me to Tunisia, and she met with several ministers, several businesses, because we want to provide lines of credit, we want to provide political risk insurance, we want to provide supporters of private equity, we want to provide a means of bringing more private American investment, to know what’s available here in Tunisia, and we’re going to work on all of that.

We’re have a trade mission coming from America with private businesses at the end of this month. We also talked about working cooperatively with the African Development Bank, with the World Bank, with the IMF and others, because we want to see how we maximize the impact of all of the resources that we can put into the Tunisian economy. I was asked to look at debt relief. We will look at debt relief, although the U.S. debt with Tunisia is not very significant, but we will look at that. We also looked at how we could be more supportive of education and training that would better suit some of the job markets. Because the fact is that there is a mis-match in this economy, like there is in our own economy. The jobs that are available don’t always have the people available to do the job. I discussed this, as well.

We talked about Tunisia now being eligible at the end of the Ben Ali regime to apply for a Millennium Challenge Corporation grant, which — I think I see some people nodding, you know what that is. Up until now, because of corruption, because of dictatorship — I mean all the reasons you know better than I — Tunisia could not be eligible. You are now, in the midst of this democratic reform, eligible. So we would like to see that.

We talked too about what could be long-term (inaudible) Tunisian economy. I briefly mentioned renewable energy, but I think it’s fair to say that with everything going on in the world today, including the terrible nuclear tragedy unfolding in Japan, some country in the Maghreb is going to become a supplier, an exporter, of renewable energy to Europe. That country should be Tunisia. Tunisia is better positioned than anyone else.

So there are lots of ideas, and what we want to do is work cooperatively. These shouldn’t be ideas — we say, “Well, this is what Tunisia needs.” It should be, “Tunisia, tell us what you need, and here’s what we can offer.”

QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) Hello, my name is Konya. I’m working for a multinational (inaudible) company, and I won’t ask any political or economic questions. I would like to know how you deal with your work-life balance as a mom, as a woman, and as (inaudible) of one of the most (inaudible) countries in the world.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, some days are better than other days. (Laughter.) With everything going on in the world this week, it has been quite a sleepless week, because there have been no respites from all of the action here in this part of the world, and in Japan, obviously, very much on our minds. But I think for any person, and particularly for any woman, that work-family balance is never ending.

Now, my daughter is grown, newly married, so I no longer have a young child, because it’s much more difficult when you have a young child. And it is important to have a supportive family, starting with a supportive husband, who is willing to be understanding and willing to commit to your interests as well as his own. And the number one obligation is, of course, your children and your family. But now my 91-year-old mother lives with us in Washington, so we have responsibility for her. So it is constantly a balancing act as you go through life.

And one of the reasons I’m so optimistic about Tunisia is because women in Tunisia have played a role in the professional, public, economic life, every aspect of life in Tunisia, since independence. And that is a very precious gift that you have for yourself and that you can demonstrate to others. And I have to say something which was very striking to me today. I have met with, by now, I would imagine, many, many, hundreds of leaders everywhere. And it is so rare when a leader raises with me the pride he has in the women of his country. I often raise it with them. I’ll say, “You can’t really be fully developed if you don’t use the potential of 50 percent of your population.” The president, the prime minister, and the foreign minister are raised it on their own. And they said, “There will be no going back in the democratic revolution of Tunisia for our women; they will be full participants.”

That is extremely good news, because what you want is the opportunity to balance your life as you choose. If you choose to work and raise a family, you should have that choice. If you choose to have a family and not work and stay home and devote yourself to your home, you should have that choice. If you choose never to marry, if you choose not to have children, those are the choices that you should responsibly make and that your society should support.

So I am very optimistic about Tunisia, because I think you’ve got the balance right on a social basis. But individually, it’s always hard. And it will – it’s constantly a measuring and a concern that you will carry with you. And your family and your workplace can do a lot to help you as you move through various stages.

PARTICIPANT: Especially when your husband stays (inaudible).

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh. He does, he does. (Inaudible) back at home, and he has always been incredibly concerned about our family and about our daughter and about our parents, when his mother and my father were alive, and about my mother. And that really helps a lot because I’m sure we’ll figure out what the genes are at some point, but woman seem to have the worry gene when it comes to all of the matters that we have to contend with. And it’s nice to have someone who can also bear some of that concern and worrying.

QUESTION: (In Arabic.)

(Song plays.)

QUESTION: (In Arabic.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think it is a very promising development, because as those pictures show, women, just as men, were involved in demanding their rights and standing against dictatorship, corruption, everything that was overthrown in Tunisia. The same happened in Egypt.

But there is a debate going on in Egypt that I don’t hear in Tunisia. A lot of the women who were in Tahrir Square in Cairo are speaking out that they don’t feel that they are being listened to now. So I hope that what should be a democracy for everyone doesn’t veer off course and begin to exclude women and girls. Because that would be, in my view, a big step backwards. And you can’t be a democracy if you don’t listen to half the population and you don’t respect the role that women have and give women the same opportunity to be in business, politics, run for office, everything else.

So I think it’s very promising, but, as we say, the jury is still out. It really depends upon the people of Tunisia. And again, you will be the model. You have so much (inaudible) yourself, that everything you do will be looked at by the rest of the world.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Because the question was about women, so – and hello, welcome to Tunisia. I’m Saloua Smaoui, I’m the head of Microsoft in Tunisia. My question would be about the youth. For me, one of the things that (inaudible) – the one thing that excites me so (inaudible) our money for being corrupt, (inaudible) is getting our (inaudible). And I know that the state (inaudible). What would you say to this beautiful, magnificent (inaudible) educated the Libyan young people so much energy, of optimism, and (inaudible) today. What would you tell them to (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think what you’ve said is exactly what everyone should hear, because, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said during our civil rights movement, and the revolution in changing laws and attitudes in our country, “I had a dream.” Well, Tunisians have a dream. But Martin Luther King also made very clear that once you have the dream, you just can’t say, “I have a dream.” It’s a lot of work to realize the dream. So the dream of Tunisian democracy is so alive and you can feel it. One of my colleagues who has been to Tunisia in the past said even spending two days now in Tunisia, you come out with so much more energy and feeling than – the future is just there for the taking. That is all true.

But I would go back to where I started. Dreams alone are not enough. Now, some time, if someone wants to be somewhat derogatory, they say, “Well, he is just a dreamer,” well, being a dreamer is important. But the person who will actually roll up his or her sleeves to work for the dream will eventually be rewarded. And so I would say have the dream, and then be very practical about how you realize those dreams. (Inaudible) President Obama famously said over and over again, “Yes, we can.” Well, it was a way of saying to people, “Believe in yourself and go to work.” But it is hard, because the world doesn’t just stop because you say, “Here’s my dream everybody; wait for me.” You have to work towards realizing it.

And when I was in Cairo, I met with a number of the people who were involved in the Egyptian revolution. And I asked them, “Well are you planning for political involvement, are you going to have a political party to carry forth the dream, are you going to work together to have a strong voice?” And they said, “We can’t agree on that.”

Well, there are those in Egypt who have very strong ideas about what should be their democracy. If they’re organized, if they’re putting forth their views, and everyone who fought for the revolution, who actually instigated it is still dreaming, they may wake up and find that the revolution looks very different than what they thought it would be.

So I would only stress that a dream got you here. Now you have to figure out how to make that dream real. And it’s been a (inaudible). “I dream someday I can be running Microsoft in Tunisia,” but you’ve don’t learn about computers, and you don’t learn about business, you’re dream is not going anywhere. But if you apply yourself – it’s the same with democracy. And that’s what I hope will happen next in the next stage of the democratic revolution.

QUESTION: (In Arabic.) (Inaudible) this summer in Tunisia we need (inaudible). (Laughter.) (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s – if I ever get a vacation – (laughter) – I would love to come back to Tunisia. And I think that if you’re going to be showing this program to many millions of people, and we have a lot of members of the American press here, let me say Tunisia is a beautiful country, and you should come visit, and you should support the new democratic Tunisia by being tourists here and put people back to work who are trying to build a new democracy. (Applause.)

QUESTION: (In Arabic.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: I have no last word except thank you. Thank you first, of course, to Nessma. And I understand that they were not Ben Ali’s favorite television station, from what I am told, which is a badge of honor. And thank you mostly to the people of Tunisia, because – especially the young people. I think it reignited the hope that freedom and democracy were not just words, but they could live in Tunisia. And I am so grateful that I’ve had this chance to come here today to hear and see for myself. And I pledge to you that the United States will stand with you as you continue on this path. Thank you, and God bless you. (Applause.)

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: