Moncef Marzouki tells TRT World that the Saudi and UAE governments coordinated with Israel to counter the uprisings that swept the region eight years ago.
The former Tunisian president, Moncef Marzouki, has accused Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel of “creating chaos” in a number of Arab countries as part of their effort to counter the 2011 revolutions.
Marzouki, who led an interim government from 2011 to 2014, told TRT World that both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi coordinated efforts with Tel Aviv “to destroy everything related to the Arab revolutions”.
“This Israeli-Emirati-Saudi coordination [...] was successful to an extent in creating chaos in Yemen; chaos in Libya; chaos in Syria; and the coup in Egypt. And in Tunisia, through corrupt money and corrupt media.
“And [they] were able to get rid of me because I was a symbol of this revolution or the first president to come to power through this revolution,” he told TRT World.
The revolutions - better known as the ‘Arab Spring’ - were a wave of pro-democracy protests which successfully toppled authoritarian leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen.
Marzouki, who was elected by the Constituent Assembly following the fall of autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, pointed out that the Arab Spring’s success in overthrowing Arab autocrats caused the governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to let out a “cry of panic”, expressing fear “that this wave could reach (them)”.
According to Marzouki, such fears led the two countries to coordinate with Israel to “strike these revolutions”.
“I think this happened in coordination with the Israelis because (Israel) opposed having a great country like Egypt go out of control,” said Marzouki.
Countering the wave
In February 2011, the wave of protests reached Bahrain, a small Gulf kingdom neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
The protests, mostly led by the country’s Shia opposition - Bahrain’s majority Muslim sect - attempted to emulate demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt against the kingdom’s Sunni ruling family.
As a response, a military force mostly comprised of Saudi and UAE troops entered Bahrain a month later to quell the protests, in an effort backed by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) - a regional alliance made up of six Arab Gulf monarchies.
In an effort to also ensure that protests didn’t destabilise other Arab kingdoms, aid packages were announced in late 2011 for Jordan and Morocco by the GCC. Jordan’s King Abdullahfired the prime minister and his cabinet in February 2011, following mass demonstrations across the country.
Two years later, both Saudi Arabia and the UAE announced billions in aid to help Egypt stabilise its economy, days after the military overthrew Mohamed Morsi - the country’s first democratically elected president.
“It’s all connected,” said Marzouki. “It’s a battle between an old system wanting to maintain its authority … and nations wanting to restore their dignity, freedom and independence.”
Today, as waves of anti-government protests sweep across Sudan, Marzouki has called on Sudanese President Omar al Bashir to step down.
“I advise him on stepping down and leaving peacefully,” he said.
“In the end he has no option. After 30 years, it’s enough what he did and he should leave.”
UAE: The ‘Arab world’s policeman’
Since leaving office, Marzouki has openly criticised the UAE, previously accusing it of “unleashing terrorism” on Tunisia.
He believes the UAE’s “interference” goes beyond Tunisia, accusing the wealthy Gulf state of intervening in Arab countries on behalf of other powers who have “tasked” the UAE with the role of the “Arab world’s policeman”.
“Who funds Haftar in Libya? The Emirates. Who is trying to separate southern Yemen?” he asked, referring to the UAE’s political and financial backing of a Yemeni separatist movement.
Marzouki doesn't believe that the UAE constructs its foreign policy in the Arab region independently, but rather has “orders” from what he referred to as “their masters” in Israel and the West.
During his time in office, Marzouki said he reached out to American officials in an attempt to curb what he saw as UAE interference in his government’s affairs.
“There was no response in this case. We sent it and never received a response to this analysis … either directly or indirectly,” he said.
In 2016, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, responded by tweeting scathing criticism of Marzouki, saying his “attack on the Emirates is in keeping with his habitually trivial and unbalanced political conduct”.
Concerns over election-rigging
After leading Tunisia for three years, Marzouki lost his country’s first presidential election in December 2014 to Baji Caid Essebsi, a former official in Ben Ali’s government and someone seen as a member of the ‘old guard’.
Marzouki said that Essebi’s platform promised “economic and social solutions” after he accused Marzouki’s government at the time of failing to grow the economy.
“This is what they told the people … Now it’s clear that they were all fake promises because there is debt aggravation and a collapse of the dinar day after day,” Marzouki said.
In November 2018, the Tunisian government faced major public pressure as roughly 650,000 civil servants went on a general strike, reportedly the country’s largest in five years. Another nationwide strike was called earlier this month.
Marzouki, an ardent critic of the current government, believes that the upcoming elections, expected later this year, will lead to a “card reshuffle”.
“There is no way that people suffering daily from rising prices, and of a critical situation, [are going] to re-invest their trust in those who lied to them,” he said.
He also raised concerns over the possibility of election rigging in the upcoming elections. When asked about who would commit such actions, Marzouki referred to the current regime, saying it was mostly composed of the old guard.
“The old regime was raised on rigging elections,” he said. “Baji Caid Essebsi boasted about rigging elections in 1981.” Marzouki was referring to an interview with his successor, who appeared on Al Jazeera in 2011 and admitted that elections were rigged during his time as interior minister.
Asked whether he will run again in his country’s presidential election, scheduled for December, Marzouki chose not to give a decisive answer.
“I will await to see whether the electoral process will be given all the chances to succeed,” he said.