Salim Ben Hamidane is a founder of the Congress for the Republican Party (Congrès pour la République – CPR), and a descendant of the “Youssefi” family–supporters of the Tunisian national leader Saleh Ben Youssef–who ran against Tunisia’s first elected president, Habib Bourguiba.  Youssef was eventually assassinated and his supporters were prosecuted and severely punished.

Salim Ben Hamidane is a founder of the Congress for the Republican Party (Congrès pour la République – CPR), and a descendant of the “Youssefi” family–supporters of the Tunisian national leader Saleh Ben Youssef–who ran against Tunisia’s first elected president, Habib Bourguiba.  Youssef was eventually assassinated and his supporters were prosecuted and severely punished.

Hamidane was politically active in the Tunisian University in the late 1980s and early 1990s and was on the police’s politically wanted list as a result. He was forced to leave and subsequently lived in several countries, including Lebanon and France. Alongside the current Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki and a number of activists, he formed CPR in the beginning of 2000.

His return to Tunisia after the revolution did not provoke media frenzy and despite that he emerged as a winner in the Constituent Assembly’s elections in October 2011 and was eventually appointed Minister of State Property.

Minister Hamidane, The Ministry of State Property and Real Estate Affairs (Ministère des Domaines de l’Etat et des Affaires Foncières – MDEAF) was long regarded as one of the most corrupt institutions during Ben Ali’s reign.  We noticed you have yet to take any drastic measures to eradicate the deeply rooted corruption in every corner and every file in this ministry!

During Ben Ali’s reign, particularly the last ten years, the ministry was a pillar of administrative and political corruption. Despite its limited role MDEAF has played a major part in dismantling the corruption system, especially in regard to real estate, as corruption in Tunisia was based on three pillars: privatization, real estate reconciliation and public transactions.

I accepted this task because I want to achieve the revolution’s goals and transform the ministry from a sink into a reform workshop. In fact, we have been on the right track of reform since 14 January 2011 and the ministry has managed to transform its work path and is seeking as much as possible to resist corruption by reviewing any suspicious file regarding real estate reconciliation, foreigners’ property and farmers’ lands. The ministry is about to achieve a breakthrough under our state of transparency and rule of law.

The estimated revenues from the confiscated property in the complementary draft budget amounted to more than 735 million, but we still do not have factual information about the nature and fate of confiscated property and the said revenues are still government estimates. Is this the result of negligence on the part of the competent authorities, including MDEAF?

The issue of confiscated property is a public demand and the revolution has come to fulfill it, and this issue is closely associated with corruption. The confiscation of property is in reality a process designed to return assets to their real owners: the Tunisian people. This process is not, as some imagined, a compulsory acquisition of property conducted by the government. It is a retrieval of property originally owned by the people, which was taken from them through organized corruption.

Decree 13 of March 2011, as amended by Decree 47 of May 2011, organizes this process and compiles a list of names of those whose property has been confiscated. Under this government, we are seeking to activate our international obligations and public demands and achieve the objectives of our people. So I say once more that the confiscation process is designed to achieve social justice to the contrary of the attempts of some people who are trying to depict it as an act of tyranny and oppression.

Is MDEAF legally empowered to retrieve stolen property overseas? In France, for example, there is a considerable number of real estate owned by the deposed president and his brothers in law.

The Overseas Looted Funds Retrieval Committee, which is under the supervision of the Governor of the Central Bank, is responsible for this process, whether these funds are in cash or real estate. We are surely working in a coordinated and organized manner and this process has begun bearing fruit on more than one level.

Accusations have been exchanged between you and human rights activist, Um Ziad, who is also your CPR former colleague. Why has CPR become a platform for verbal abuse and political vilification?

We surely have our political differences when some issues are addressed, and some may become emotionally strained. The important thing is to turn a new page and work together to serve Tunisia. Competing in an honourable way for the public good means that some of our friends and former colleagues could form a new party, to which we wish them good luck and hope that it will further democracy in our country.

Can the former colleagues of struggle become future political allies?

It is possible that they become our closest allies, especially since we share the same history. I wish that we share the future and rise above our differences and grudges because the coming generations will not forgive us if our efforts disappear as a result of our differences. I call on Um Ziad, Abderraouf Ayadi, Fathi Jerbi and all our former colleagues to turn a new page, walk down the road of reform and achieve the aspirations of our people: dignity and freedom.

Let us talk about your description of the “Ralliers” – those affiliated to former Ben Ali’s Democratic Constitutional Rally Party – as scumbags and who need to be eradicated from Tunisia’s political life, as being a political short sight and a reproduction of the de-Baathification experiment in Iraq.

This is a matter of principle and we know that the Rally Party was the political oppression and tyranny machine that was systematically used against the Tunisian people. This party, or should we say this massive machine, was the cornerstone of the security establishment and when I described the Rallier heads of its sections as criminals, I said so because they had taken part in torturing thousands of Tunisian citizens and families. They are those who ratted on political activists and prosecuted them through security apparatuses. Every citizen is well aware of that and that is why I stick to this stand because it is a matter of principle.

We are democratic people believing in the right of participation for everyone, but it is natural during this transitional period to ban any person involved in a crime against the Tunisian people, from taking part in the political process.

Any revolution that has respect for itself and for its people should purify and abolish establishments, figures and laws of the overthrown regime. The main slogan raised by the French Revolution was ‘Strangle the last king with the entrails of the last priest’ because the pillars of tyranny before the French Revolution had been the royalty, feudalists and clergymen. So we must raise this slogan because we want to cut all ties with the painful past.

I am amazed by those shameless people. They dare to claim their right in political participation while the blood of our martyrs has not yet dried and justice has not been achieved for the victims. I demand and that the Tunisian people are entitled to hold those responsible for the crimes committed against them and that they are held criminally and politically accountable before the national, Arab and international public opinion, especially since they haven’t apologized yet.

Some even barefacedly regarded themselves partners in the revolution, which is a total lie. So they pose a threat to the revolution, and our stand toward them can be nothing but radical because we cannot tolerate any discussion in the basic principles for which the Tunisian martyrs have given their lives.

Doesn’t that mean that you are advocates of eradication in a revolutionary moment that requires more justice and democracy?

Yes, we are advocates of eradication of corruption, evil, injustice and oppression and this is an honour for us because this is the quest of the revolution, the international community and now all the free people of the world who support the Tunisian Revolution and all Arab revolutions. The Ralliers and the Rally Party are the instruments that practiced both types of evil: corruption and tyranny.

Why haven’t the radical religious parties, which do not believe in democracy and call for the restoration of caliphate rule been legally banned?

I am specialized in the Association Law and I believe that the secret behind the success of the French example and democracy as a whole is total freedom to form associations so much so that under the French law, applying for a license to form an association is not required.

The freedom of affiliation and creation of associations is basic principle of democracy, so I demand a total freedom in forming associations and parties. Control should be subsequent in the sense that individuals who violate, through their political or organizational activities, the laws in force or threaten national security, should be prosecuted by law.

However, I consider the issue of licenses as interference in political freedom, which contradicts our slogan “Since when do you enslave people when their mothers bear them as free men?” Granting a license to certain people and denying other people’s application is a type of modern state oppression. Everyone should be entitled to form associations, and then people who violate the laws or threaten national security will be prosecuted under the law and called into account by all legal means.

The campaign to question your academic degrees was a precedent that has not affected any state official before. Moreover, your credentials have been rejected by the Bar Associations, how do you respond to that?

I say to all my opponents and to all competing parties that we should rise above our grudges, and our differences should only be about how to make the reconstruction process better. I champion criticism and it is ok for me to be criticized for my political programs, policies or projects, but false accusations and prejudiced rumors are pointless. For those who question my academic degrees, they are actually questioning the Tunisian, Lebanese and French universities that awarded me those degrees. All of my academic degrees, Deo gratias, have been scrutinized by the Ministry of Higher Education.

You are often accused of being behind the Islamization of CPR in an attempt to make it a minion and subsidiary of the Ennahda Movement, how do you respond to that?

I am a Pan Arabist, an Islamist, a democrat and a modernizer. I believe that thought in this age of globalization and universality is trans-continental, tarns-religious and trans-ideological. We are today in the realm of human thought and I have managed throughout my long journey to be in contact with many experiments.  I have become fully convinced that the particularity of the Arab and Islamic identity constitutes the foundation stone to open up to universality.

So, from the perspective of thought, my opinions are inspired by the Holy Quran and the Sunna, as well as by modern writings in sociology and by many Western – both modern and postmodern – thinkers.