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Islamists Concede Defeat in Tunisia; Tunisia after the Election; The Origins of ISIS; Imagine a World
Aired October 28, 2014 - 15:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN HOST (voice-over): Hello, everyone. Tonight from the crucible of the Arab Spring, Tunisia votes for a peaceful transition to a
But why are so many Tunisians leaving to fight for ISIS?
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HOLMES (voice-over): We explore the origins of ISIS, a powerful new documentary on the roots of that movement.
HOLMES: Good evening, everyone, welcome to the program. I'm Michael Holmes, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.
Well, it is seen as an Arab Spring success story -- Tunisia, we're talking about. It was the first Middle Eastern country to oust its dictator back
in 2011 and last night it was a symbol of compromise and reason as the Islamist Ennahda party conceded the election to an alliance of secular
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HOLMES (voice-over): Now with much of the rest of the region now in bloody chaos or back under authoritarian rule, Tunisia stands alone among Arab
Spring countries in having a functioning democratic government.
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HOLMES: But the picture not completely rosy. The country's economy: stagnant. And there is an increasing fear of Islamist terrorism, both at
home and abroad.
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HOLMES (voice-over): Tunisia holds the dubious distinction of having the most fighters waging war in Syria. Several thousand, by some estimates.
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HOLMES: Will a new government be able to put together the pieces?
Joining me now from Tunis is Carlotta Gall, a North Africa correspondent for "The New York Times" and a veteran reporter on the war on terror.
Carlotta, first of all, I want to ask you, what's been the reaction on the streets to the vote there?
What are people saying? Because it wasn't a crashing victory. It was a victory.
CARLOTTA GALL, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": It's certainly a turnaround so people are very happy with what -- the ones who won.
And after Marashi (ph) putting a brave face on it and they tried to celebrate yesterday as well, celebrating for democracy, they said, I think
what's clear is that the people who voted were very enthused and came out and very strongly wanted to say something.
And mostly they wanted to beat the government over the economy. It really was the economy. Prices had risen and people have -- are still jobless in
many cases. And so they really wanted -- they were angry and they wanted to show that.
What of course we're now looking when we see the figures is that a lot of people didn't vote and a lot of those were the young people and there's
only 3 million did vote of a possible electorate of 8 million.
So there's still a lot of people who feel marginalized, out of touch with the politicians or the politicians out of touch with their needs. And so
there's still, I think, a lot going on in society that's still got to shake down.
HOLMES: What then do you think will change in Tunisia as the result of this vote?
What are those coming in promising to do and what realistically can they do?
GALL: I think that's the worry. It's actually no party has got the most. The secularists have got the biggest chunk, but they're going to have to do
a coalition part government. They have to form a government with other parties. Possibly they'll do a unity government with the Islamists.
But that's going to be quite tricky and going to take we reckon weeks, possibly months to negotiate.
We've also got presidential elections coming up. So that's going to take a few more months.
There's talk that there won't be a new government in place until February. The economy is in dire need of direction and at the moment, we just have a
So there's a lot of problems to be resolved, which are going to still stagnate for a few more months. That's the main problem.
The second problem is the divisions in society are still there. They had a democratic solution, yes. They went to the polls peacefully. But the
divisions in society here I find still very strong, especially between secularists and Islamists. And that's going to remain and going to be a
source of struggle.
HOLMES: Yes, which brings me to the next question, I suppose. Ennahda has built, in many ways, along the lines of the Muslim Brotherhood. The
Brotherhood we saw in Egypt when it was voted into power democratically, was unable to rule or govern in an effective way because they didn't know
what they were doing.
Was that partly the problem here, that Ennahda, when they came in, they had no nuance, no knowledge of government? Certainly many of them had spent
time in jail under Ben Ali.
GALL: That's true. And some of them were in exile, though. And their leader, Ghannouchi, Rashed Ghannouchi, was in exile in England. So I think
he's taken on actually some many lessons of democracy and of how to manage politics. So he's proving very skilled, I think.
But certainly their government was criticized for failing to manage the economy especially but also the insecurity that quickly spread after the
revolution. And I think they had a difficult time.
They also had a very -- they had quite a resistance in society, especially in the media. They got attacked relentlessly in the media, which was still
very -- had been a Ben Ali media and had not been -- was not reformed very quickly. And so they were quite tough on the government.
And now the caretaker government, they still found they haven't been able to swing things around. They've been in charge since January and they've
found it also tough.
So I think all those things came together. But the main economy has slid, and that's hurt people. And you know, when people hurt an economy, they
take it out on the government. So that's really the main thing.
Second thing was this creeping Islamism that people got very scared of because suddenly it became violent and suddenly we saw terrorist attacks,
ambushes in the mountains, insurgencies starting and some attacks in the towns. And people got very scared by that.
HOLMES: Right. Carlotta Gall, North Africa correspondent for "The New York Times" on the ground for us there, really appreciate your time tonight
there from Tunis.
All right. My next guest, Mehrezia Labidi is a lawmaker for the Islamists Ennahda party, although she won her seat in the election, Ennahda, as we
said, lost out to its mainly secular rival, which is Nida Tunis. She joined us a short time ago from the Tunisian capital, Tunis.
HOLMES: Mehrezia Labidi, thanks so much for your time. It's never easy to be the first to govern after a revolution, but how do you explain this move
to a more secular government?
What did Ennahda do wrong?
Tell me what happened here.
MEHREZIA LABIDI, TUNISIAN POLITICIAN: Well, it is a bit -- let's say quite normal in such situations.
After the election of 2011 Ennahda -- not only Ennahda but with Ennahda, many other political parties and especially Ettakatol and Congress, they
led this turn of government in this very sensitive period of transition with all problems of unemployment, of development, of also the challenge of
And it such speared the power, indeed makes kind of a -- it erodes the trust of people in the government.
So it is, I think, quite expected that the number of our electors will decrease.
HOLMES: In what had been a very troubled post-Arab Spring region, Tunisia is often held out here as a real success story in terms of peaceful
Why is that?
LABIDI: We are homogenous on the ethnic, linguistic and religious level. This is, I think, one factor.
The second factor is the high level of education. Tunisian people are educated people and I think also those -- the politicians who are leading
this stage of transition, democratic transition, are used to work together.
Ennahda has chosen to bring -- to get Tunisian people together, to reconcile and to give a priority to the interests of Tunisia and not in the
interests of the party.
Tunisia is a civil state, a republic and it's not a matter secularism and Islam. It's a matter of democracy and non-democracy.
Development and expectation of our people in employment and in the development of inner regions. These are the terms of the choice and of
HOLMES: Why are so many Tunisians going overseas to fight jihad in other countries? Enormous numbers.
LABIDI: Well, I think this is a bad heritage of the despotic area, the despotic face under the former regime of Ben Ali. It was a period where
real and good and positive religious culture was completely banned from our educational programs, from culture.
So we had youth, a generation of young people who have no real reform and authentic Tunisian religious cultures.
So they've been attracted and tracked by speeches by extremism and by these, let's say, these movements which are crossing, let's say, the
borders of countries.
HOLMES: Some members of the party which won this election served under Mr. Ben Ali, the former regime.
Is that a concern that it's many of the old guard --
HOLMES: -- in government again?
LABIDI: Yes, yes. Yes, this is a concern among a great number of Tunisians.
For Tunisian women -- and as a newly reelected member of the parliament, I'm calling to be very attentive to the respect of liberties, of rights, of
democracies, to prevent and stand against, any, any, any attempt to bring Tunisia back to the former regime.
HOLMES: Do you think there's a need in Tunisia for the government to be a unity government, a coalition between the victor and the loser?
Do you think that that's something that would help Tunisia?
LABIDI: We do believe. We are convince that we should work together, Tunisians, whether we belong to such-or-such party, whether we are from
civil society or political parties, we are still calling for this, calling to work together to push Tunisia forward on the path of democracy, of
And we hope that we'll be listened to and just let our voice can be also echoed by many other politicians who are aware that Tunisia cannot be built
unless by all its active causes.
HOLMES: And one final question, you are a woman and congratulations on your election. Tunisia is very progressive compared to many Muslim
countries when it comes to women. I think nearly 50 percent of newly registered voters are women.
And the constitution introduced this year gives parity, the first time, I think, in the Arab world, between men and women in elections.
How do you see the role of women and their influence in Tunisian politics?
LABIDI: I think that Tunisia is always been an exception in matters of women's rights and women's role in the society and this even in our
history. When we empower women, we empower society. We empower democracy.
So I think Tunisian women have a big responsibility in Tunisian society to show that a society where women are empowered is a real empowered society,
and I hope will give indeed the desire or the will to other Arab Muslim countries to follow our example.
HOLMES: Mehrezia Labidi, thanks so much. Appreciate your time.
LABIDI: Thank you, sir. Thank you very much indeed.
HOLMES: Well, as Iraqi Kurdish fighters mobilize to defend the beleaguered town of Kobani in Syria, we're going to have an insight for you into the
origins of ISIS -- when we come back.
HOLMES: Welcome back to the program.
Kurdish fighters from Iraq are on their way to Kobani in Syria to try to turn the tide against the ISIS advance there. It is another example of the
success of ISIS that has surprised many people as they have gained control of large swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq.
So how did the group come to be? That is the focus of a new PBS "Frontline" documentary, "The Rise of ISIS." The story centers around the
political dissent in the sectarian divisions between Sunni and Shia after American troops left the country back in 2011.
I spoke to producer and reporter Martin Smith about his new documentary a short time ago.
HOLMES: Martin Smith, great to have you on the program. Thanks so much.
Much of the blame for the rise of ISIS put at the feet of Nouri al-Maliki and his sectarian policies. I was in Iraq, actually, as the -- your last
U.S. troops left and we saw what he did almost immediately, crack down on Sunnis, who then realized that without the Americans, they were on their
Before I get to the question, let's have a look at a clip from the documentary on that.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): If you take Iraq's Sunni community, its leadership, it's full of reasonable people. It's full of secular,
educated, very moderate people.
But they look around and they say where do we go?
And the only people that are going to protect us are these really hard guys. We may not like them, but we need them because otherwise there's
nothing. Nobody's going to protect us.
And the Americans aren't here anymore.
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HOLMES: As part of what is a powerful documentary, has the impact of what al-Maliki did for the growth of ISIS been overstated, in your view, or was
it truly a genesis?
MARTIN SMITH, PBS PRODUCER: Well, I think that you have to understand that there was the remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq that existed. And some of his
paranoia had some foundation and -- but he grossly overstepped by, well, immediately after the last American troop left, arresting bodyguards of his
vice president, then going on to charge him with terrorism.
And then his finance minister, at the end of the first year after the Americans left. So he -- there were a lot of arbitrary arrests. There
were detentions without charges and executions without trials.
He grossly overstepped. So his paranoia about returning Ba'athists or Al Qaeda or the jihadis got the better of him.
HOLMES: What about the impact of what went on in Syria on the growth of ISIS?
How did that situation give them so much oxygen?
SMITH: You know, there's no doubt that without Syria -- Maliki's crackdown was a factor. But without Syria, I don't think ISIS would have become
It was in around 2011 that Abu Baker al-Baghdadi, the leader of then Al Qaeda in Iraq, the precursor to ISIS, sent a few men over into Syria and
guerilla movements need sanctuary and they need open spaces where they can exploit, grow.
And they were very savvy in terms of running extortion rackets or seizing oil fields and whatnot, and set themselves up to grow and quickly became
dominant. Without Syria, I don't think ISIS would have become the group that it is today.
HOLMES: And therefore, did the West, in the estimation of many, do you think that they made a mistake in not getting more involved in Syria early
SMITH: Well, that's one of those hindsight questions and certainly the documentary does lay out that people at very high levels of the Obama
administration were counseling President Obama to get involved supporting so-called moderate rebels so that the jihadi rebels wouldn't grow and
He rejected that advice; he had been elected by a constituency that wanted no more adventures in the Middle East. So he was reluctant to get
involved. It's a defensible position.
But now many of those people, like his Defense secretary, his secretary of state, the head of the CIA, Petraeus, and indeed the chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, all of whom were counseling him, now feel that in fact maybe had we been involved, things would have gone better. But again,
we'll not know; it's a hypothetical.
HOLMES: And back to Iraq, the documentary also talks of warnings not heeded when it comes to ISIS, especially in the case of Mosul, the second
biggest city in the country and the taking of Mosul, which as you point out in the documentary, even caught ISIS off guard when it comes to the
failures of the military.
And I want to play just another brief clip before we get to your thoughts on that.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Victory is close, God willing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Then on June 6th, 2014, ISIS sent several suicide car bombs into downtown Mosul --
-- along with ISIS fighters in pickup trucks. In some neighborhoods, they were warmly welcomed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): We sacrifice our lives and blood for Iraq!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): The Iraqi army, on the other hand, was seen as a Shia militia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOLMES: And as we say, the points that you make in the documentary there is there were warnings given to the Iraqi government that ISIS was massing.
And then you had that failure of the Iraqi military. And in particular the failure of the leadership, many of whom were al-Maliki loyalists rather
than the experienced commanders who were kicked out.
SMITH: There are two kinds of warnings here. One was the warning that ISIS was gaining strength in Syria and was threatening to come back into
Iraq. They had already taken, of course, Fallujah in the -- in January of this year. But we get to June and they're threatening Mosul.
Those warnings were taken and received at the White House. However, the warning that they didn't get, where there was, I think, an intelligence
failure of some kind was on the fact that the Iraqi army was pretty much a shell. It had been gutted by Maliki, who had been fearing a coup d'etat
and had replaced many of the best commanders with cronies.
So that was not so well understood and that took the White House by surprise.
HOLMES: Well, I'm curious at the end of the day what you see, having done this documentary, as the real threat of ISIS, the group's potential going
forward, for example, the chances of taking Baghdad. A lot of people wonder why they would want to rather than just go around it.
But what did you come away with?
SMITH: I don't see the taking of Baghdad as a real possibility, at least in the short run and even in the long term. It's a Shia city. It's a city
that must be more than 80 percent Shia. Militias are operating there in some strength.
It's unlike Mosul, that was a Sunni city. So I don't think they're going to take Baghdad. The real question is just what is their long-term
objective. I mean, they're on a roll. They're able to use the media and Twitter and YouTube and they're fighting their first real battle in Kobani
on the Syrian border.
They've seized more territory around Anbar province, the Sunni heartland, not far outside of Baghdad. But where they go from there, I don't know.
HOLMES: Yes. And that's what worries everyone.
Martin, really appreciate it. It is a powerful documentary, really encapsulates how we got to here. Martin Smith, thanks so much.
SMITH: Thank you.
HOLMES: And that new "Frontline" documentary, "The Rise of ISIS," is on PBS in the U.S., also online at PBS.org/frontline.
And when we come back here on the program, new evidence suggests that in terms of language our differences are dying out. We may be talking your
lingo -- after the break.
HOLMES: Welcome back. As communication makes our world smaller, is it really bringing us closer together or is our culture becoming more
homogenized? Imagine a world where only six languages were spoken on Earth. It's not beyond the realms of possibilities.
Think about it: Chinese, English, Hindi, Spanish, Arabic and Russian are common tongues, according to UNESCO. Half of the world's 6,000 languages
could be lost by the end of the century. Some of these languages have very few speakers. The author and linguist, Adam Jacot de Boinod has identified
some of the more niche dialects.
For example, 850 different languages in Papua New Guinea -- did you know that; 670 in Indonesia.
And some of the rarer languages, well, they have been saved. Faroese, believed to be spoken by the Vikings, is actually protected by Danish
authorities and Welsh and Maori have enjoyed a resurgence, which is good news for -- as the famous Maori proverb goes, "Toku reo toku ohooho," "My
language is my awakening."
"Bonda," which is long lost Australian for "good."
That's our program for tonight. Thanks for watching. Goodbye from Atlanta.