Salim Riahi, leader of the Free Patriotic Union (FPU), one of the ruling coalition parties, and President of omnisport Club Africain, speaks about the recent political crisis that has shaken Tunisia’s stability.

Mr. Riahi, what are the reasons for the current protests that have swept the country?

Salim Riahi, leader of the Free Patriotic Union (FPU), one of the ruling coalition parties, and President of omnisport Club Africain, speaks about the recent political crisis that has shaken Tunisia’s stability.

Mr. Riahi, what are the reasons for the current protests that have swept the country?

First of all, we have to admit that these protests are legitimate because the reasons that sparked the 2011 revolution are still here and very much alive. This of course has led all governorates to protest, considering that the pledges made to the people, especially the unemployed, have not been fulfilled.

The problem is that malicious groups have infiltrated the protests to destroy and disrupt the country. These people have failed to come to power, so they resort to fragment the country into parts to be ruled by gangsters.

You are part of the problem because your agenda as a ruling coalition has been foggy and absent of any programs.

This is untrue, and I will only speak about the FPU. We are not implementing our election platform. We are the third force in a government after Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda. We tried to implement our platform through the ministerial portfolios accorded to us, but our programs have not been fully implemented. I must admit that we are still short of unified programs within the ruling coalition, which has caused the current crisis.

Government programs have focused on the stalled infrastructure projects. However, it is now imperative to change our priorities. We have demanded that the prime minister create more jobs through implementing a labor-intensive project in each governorate, instead of offering vulnerable employment opportunities and other short-term solutions.

Citizens have started to complain about politicians due to deteriorating situations and rivalry among parties over positions. How do you comment?

That is correct. There is a frenzied struggle for positions to exploit power and attain all accompanying luxuries.

Why has the government failed to combat rampant corruption?

Because there is no proper structure and clear action to combat it. The recent protests that started in Kasserine are due to a corrupt government officials. In the past, these practices happened time and again and passed off silently, but today they are faced with protests and defamation. I believe the best solution to put an end to corruption is through legislation amendments and a reduction of administrative obstacles.

What is the most appropriate way out of the current crisis?

It is necessary to openly and truly explain the situation to Tunisians and give priority to their demands, as well as keep them posted about developments so that they become more aware of the situation. In addition, the government must send reassurance messages to everyone because the recent outbreak of protests is due to the absence of hope for change. Having a death wish means extreme desperation.

Everyone should work for restoration of hope among young people through adopting measures, such as facilitating and following up access to funding of projects by the government. Political parties must also take their responsibilities through fulfilling their promises.

Do you have any apprehensions vis-à-vis the worsening security situation, considering the threats by the Islamic State – IS – in Libya of launching attacks against Tunisia?

The latest protests have led to the discovery of a positive development, a remarkable progress at the security level and professional treatment of the situation. Security officers have kept their temper, wisely dealt with infiltrating elements and avoided being provoked by these intruders. The only casualties during the protests have been among security officers. As regards to IS threats, they will be unheeded, and we must not allow any party to exploit the protests for other purposes.

What is your comment on a statement made by former President Moncef Marzouki in which he demanded the formation of a national unity government in light of the recent protests?

This statement came from a person with no political future and he knows it. He is unfortunately trying to fish in troubled waters. We should find a way out of the ongoing crisis and protect the country from the scourge of terrorism. As a former president, he knows a lot about these developments, and he should have done something about it.

What are the repercussions of the statement of Marzouki’s who accused the UAE of thwarting the Arab uprisings, and what impact will that have on Tunisia?

That was a strange statement which should not have been made by a former president. Thank Allah he made it while not in power. What he has said affirms that he only thinks of himself and his personal interests. His statement will not help him have electorate votes in the future. He only seeks to ruin the bilateral relations between the two states. I wonder for whose interest is Marzouki’s statement, and whether or not he is aware of the consequences of his accusations. Over 25,000 Tunisians work in the UAE, and what happened could adversely affect them.

How did the FPU manage to have four ministerial portfolios, overtaking Ennahda in the government?

This is a message to any party that has sought to defame the FPU. It is a slap in the face for those who have described us as dictators, while we are in fact the most stable centrist party with no substantive differences because we maintain the same principles. Yes we have four ministers, through whom we will try to perform our duty as best as we can and prove to Tunisians that we are able at another stage to lead the country and ensure a dignified live for all through fulfilling our commitments.

Some say you have threatened the prime minister of withdrawing from the government coalition in case you did not get more portfolios. Is that right?

It is our right to exercise pressure when needed. We are a nascent party and we have made promises to Tunisians and pledged to solve their problems and address their grievances. We will not meet these obligations unless we have the proper number of portfolios. During our discussions with the prime minister, I pointed out to the failings of the first composition and I also presented nominees from my party and from other parties because I believed that the country needed all capacities. Some of my suggestions were approved while others were rejected.

Nidaa Tounes which leads the government coalition has experienced a deep crisis and you have stood by its side and supported its parliamentary bloc. How do you comment?

What is happening in Nidaa Tounes is an internal affair resulting from a power struggle and we find it regrettable because it has negatively reflected  its image. We have stood by its side because we have similar tendencies, and the challenges ahead call for an alliance with a large party like Nidaa Tounes. The notion of merging our bloc with that of Nidaa Tounes is not new since former secretary general of Nidaa Tounes Mohsen Marzouk previously raised it. We, as a party, seek stability rather than positions and stability largely depends on party stability. This is evident in the negative impact of Nidaa Tounes crisis on the situation in our country.

Why does Club Africain, which was the champion in the last season, only rank ninth this season?

This is always the case with football. Chelsea was last year’s champion, but this year it is in the middle. Does it mean that the club’s president does not perform well? Last year, we won 11 titles, so how on earth could I be considered to have failed the club only a few months later?

What are the factors that have led to the declining performance of the team?

Essentially, the injuries that affected 16 players, in addition to the calendar problem and the Tunisian Federation that stands against us. I believe that our successes have displeased many. However, Club Africain will be OK, and I hope that the recent technical changes will be fruitful.

It is said that you will fail politically if you fails in sport.

Nonsense. Politics depends on vision and persuasion. We are moving steadily and firmly, and I look forward to opening new horizons for Tunisians towards security and prosperity. This will always be my project of which I am proud. As for Club Africain, I will work toward its progress and success. It is a prestigious club feared by all, and I have succeeded with it and will continue to support it to bring it back on the right track.