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14 Tunisian members of parliament, preparing the future

Karim Ben Cheikh - Quai d’Orsay, Paris, France - 19 février 2016

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Karim Ben Cheikh is an expert at the Analysis, Planning and Strategy Centre (CAPS). From 13 to 19 September 2015, he accompanied a delegation of 14 Tunisian members of parliament visiting French institutions. He tells us of this marathon of a week, during which he also had a paper on “migrations” to finish ! A look back on a visit that was also an opportunity for him to remember his childhood in Tunisia.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Rain. Orly Airport. A few memories of Tunisia come to mind. The first days of 1984. Armoured vehicles on Avenue Habib Bourguiba. Sporadic detonations. The word “ceasefire”. Going back to school after the holidays in 1987. In the playground we talked of the President’s trips to the sea, which were the main subject on the summer television news bulletins. A few weeks later, we talked of a medical coup d’État. 1988. Posters of all colours appeared on the walls as the elections came along. They disappeared just as fast to give way to presidential portraits – for a long time to come. 1995. Departure for France ; almost like running away, seeing how the desire to howl – as we joke in Tunisia – was great. Sorbonne. Student demonstrations. I throw myself in.

Twenty years on, I am a French diplomat and I am standing in an airport hall awaiting 14 Tunisian members of parliament. Representatives of a people who has seized back democratic power. A people that did not flee. Change has taken place. They are coming. Joyful faces. They are young. Optimistic. Welcome.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Rain. A busy week ahead. A first series of meetings for the deputies. Working sessions at the National Assembly. The Tunisian members of parliament have precise questions. We compare models and day-to-day issues. What happens when a member’s bill and a government bill overlap ? Do they have to be merged ? Who puts forward the final text ? A member of parliament ? Or of the Government ? ... the discussion is most instructive for me, as a civil servant. They are preparing the future, knowing that what they decide today will set a precedent.

The delegation then visits the High Council of Magistrates (CSM), while I seize the opportunity to head to my office and finish a paper on migrations and the idea of pendulum migration. I meet them at the Arab World Institute. So, how was the CSM ? “It was great. It’s amazing to speak to the First President of the Court of Cassation !”, says one. “As far as justice is concerned, only God is above him !”, laughs a second. Arab World Institute President Jack Lang arrives. He starts the conversation, saying that he is thinking of an exhibition on contemporary Tunisia. “Why not an exhibition about the Bardo ?” asked one female member of parliament. “There’d be no shortage of sponsors given the symbolism !” A great symbol of Tunisian resistance... Why not, indeed. Exhibiting the treasures of Roman and Phoenician Tunisia, just as Daesh is destroying Palmyra. The idea seems to have won over those present ; what will happen next ?

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

The sun’s come out ! I meet the members of parliament at the Senate. Meeting with Jean-Pierre Sueur, Chair of the interparliamentary France-Tunisia Friendship Group. The discussions are very warm : Tunisia certainly seems to have a lot of friends !

Next come some other working sessions with French National Assembly Deputies Jean-Jacques Urvoas and Razzy Hammadi, and then a meeting at the Social, Economic and Environmental Council with President Delevoye, before we head for the offices of the Minister of State for Development and Francophonie. The Minister of State, Annick Girardin, meets them on the Ministry steps, clearly delighted to receive them. She stresses the delegation’s youth, referring to her visit to Tunisia a few months earlier to take part in the youth forum.

As we leave, the Director of Ms Girardin’s Private Office asks me how the Analysis, Planning and Strategy Centre (CAPS) – which I am part of – is getting on with its reflection on migrations. I set out to him the main lines of our work and promised a paper very soon. The night will be long...

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Rain. Breakfast at the Hôtel de Lassay, the residence of the President of the National Assembly, with the Vice-President of the National Assembly. A flying tour of the Hôtel de Lassay and of the Palais Bourbon (National Assembly). A quick stop at the Quai d’Orsay (Foreign Ministry), where the members of parliament were welcomed by the deputy director of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development’s Private Office. I leave the group of members of parliament to head back to my office. I seize the opportunity to incorporate my colleagues’ comments into the paper on migrations and then run back to rejoin the members of parliament. Then we rush onwards to the Hôtel de Matignon, the Prime Minister’s offices. Meeting with the team of the Prime Minister before the Prime Minister himself arrives, wishing to show his commitment to Tunisia’s young democracy. Everyone is very moved, I think, both the Tunisians and the French. A quick photo opportunity. The day is over for our guests. But continues for me. Vive working from home.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Indeterminate weather. Too early and too dark still to know... We meet at the Gare du Nord station to head off early to Brussels. We attend the European Parliament’s vote on the Commission proposal to help take in refugees. The text is adopted, to the great dismay of certain MEPs seated at the far right of the parliament, and who do not fail to express their disagreement. Meetings at the Council and the Commission for fascinating discussions on development, security and counter-terrorism issues. Appointments made with some of our interlocutors to address the Assembly of the Representatives of the People in Tunisia. Back to Paris, rather worn out but content. The members of parliament head back to their hotel. I head back to work at home on migration...

Friday, 18 September 2015

Rain. I don’t join the members of parliament, who have further working sessions at the National Assembly, the Constitutional Council and the Higher Audiovisual Council (CSA). I have to get ready for my visit to Morocco the next day, where I will be joining the President of the French Republic’s delegation. It will be an opportunity for me to see some of my Moroccan contacts again. I am running late for an interministerial meeting on migratory flows. I sketch out the CAPS proposals on the issue, then head back to the office. The paper is ready to be distributed. I then join the members of parliament at their hotel to say goodbye and apologies for not being able to accompany them for their last day. They invite me to visit the Tunisian parliament : I wouldn’t miss that for the world !

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Uncertain weather. Roissy Airport. I meet other colleagues, and we wait to leave for Morocco. I am thinking of those young Tunisian members of parliament. This week was truly exciting, with all the prospects and all the hope that these young members of parliament represent. I think back on that now obsolete joke : the story of the dog that just wanted to be allowed to howl...

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