U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesperson
February 25, 2012
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
At Town Hall with Tunisian Youth
February 25, 2012
Palais du Baron d'Erlanger
MODERATOR: We are very proud of the youth of our country for being the catalyst and leaders of change. Madam, the Secretary of State, we're honored to have you visit our country for the second time in less than a year. And on behalf of the attendees today, I would like to welcome you and thank you for the time you are spending with us and for the exciting opportunity to have our youth exchange with you. The floor is to you.
SECRETARY CLINTNON: Thank you so much. Well, thank you very much, and it is a pleasure to be back here in a free Tunisia and to be at this beautiful center for Arab and Mediterranean music, and I want to thank the director and everyone associated with the center. But what is most exciting to me is to have this chance to talk with all of you, and I thank you for coming, and Leila, thank you for agreeing to moderate.
It is an exciting but also challenging time here in Tunisia. The riot police are gone, and the pepper spray no longer fills the air, but it is true that building a sustainable democracy and a modern economy, guaranteeing the universal rights of all Tunisians, the freedom of speech, the freedom of press, the freedom of religion, the freedom of association, all of that takes time to firmly establish. Building a modern economy that is open to the world, that takes advantage of Tunisia’s strategic location also takes time. But what I am impressed by is not only how inspiring the revolution in Tunisia has been, but how determined the people of Tunisia are about the future you are seeking.
Now, the future is always somewhat uncertain, but what is certain to me is that it will be the young people of Tunisia who determine what the future will be. And many have asked: Why after so many years did change finally come to Tunisia and that change here in Tunisia spark change across the Arab world? And why did young people here in Tunisia strike the first blows for freedom and opportunity?
Well, the first and general answer is that the rights and dignity of human beings cannot be denied forever, no matter how oppressive a regime may be. The spirit of human rights and human dignity lives within each of us, and the universal aspirations have deep and lasting power. A second reason is that you belong to a remarkable generation of young people, not only here in Tunisia, but across the world. It is an optimistic, innovative, impatient young people that I see everywhere I travel. Because in addition to your own courage and determination, there are underlying dynamics that are affecting young people everywhere – changes in demographics and technology, economics and politics that are bringing together this unique moment in history.
Young people are at the heart of today’s great strategic opportunities and challenges, from rebuilding the global economy to combating violent extremism to building sustainable democracies. And I have fought, as some of you know – some of the women that I was just saying hello to who are leading change here in Tunisia – I have fought for years to put women’s empowerment on the international agenda. I think it’s time to put youth empowerment there as well.
Now I realize, being young, you may be skeptical. It was a long time ago, but I remember being young myself. But the needs and concerns of young people have been marginalized too long by political and economic leaders. And the fact is today, the world ignores youth at its peril, because just look at the demographics. From Latin America to the Middle East to Sub-Saharan Africa to Southeast Asia, we are seeing what experts call a youth bulge. There are now more than 3 billion people under the age of 30 in the world. Ninety percent of them live in the developing world. And the numbers continue to grow.
And you are living in a world that your parents, and certainly your grandparents, could never have imagined – satellite television, the internet, Facebook. My late mother used to say, “What is this about faces on the internet?” (Laughter.) And new communications technologies shrink your world but expand your horizons. Now everybody can see how others are living – living in prosperity, dignity, and freedom, and they rightly want those things for themselves. And we can also see, as we have seen, terribly over the last weeks, what’s happening in Syria. And I really commend the Tunisian Government for hosting the conference which was held yesterday.
So as expectations are rising, what is being done to meet them? We are making progress politically, but more needs to be done economically. Young people are three times more likely to be unemployed than older people. And more than 100 million young people are scraping by with part-time employment and insufficient wages. And right here in Tunisia, I know there are many young people who are not yet fully employed, productively employed.
So the global economy is connecting us more than ever, but young people are finding, even with graduate degrees, they may not have the skills that the global marketplace is seeking. So there is this gap. So millions of young people leave families and villages for crowded cities and don’t find what they are looking for yet. The old patronage networks that provided jobs to previous generations were reinforced by corrupt systems that are now outmoded and would not be working in today’s modern world. Young people in many countries are combining technologies and ethics to reinvigorate grassroots public service, and we’re seeing the results as they stand up against corrupt governments. Many of the ties that existed in family and community are not as strong as they used to be, and so many young people find themselves on their own. And this is all a recipe for frustration and instability that can be exploited by extremists and criminals around the world.
So what do we do? How do we link up the energy and innovation of young people with the changes that are so necessary? In fact, last January, as protests were filling the streets of this city, I traveled to Doha and warned a conference of regional Arab leaders that if they did not act quickly enough to offer young people a better vision for the future, their regimes would sink into the sand. And the young people of Tunisia proved that point.
And so political reform is proceeding. And many times in the past, much longer. In Poland, it took a decade for a trade union to dislodge a repressive communist government. In Tunisia, it took you a month to dislodge a dictator. The global story that is happening here and elsewhere requires innovative thinking and economic entrepreneurship to ensure that the democratic revolution delivers results for individuals. That is happening in lots of places, but not enough, or not quickly enough.
Now, I have made the argument that in every region of the world, the needs and aspirations of young people should be more fully recognized. As an official in India recently said, the youth bulge will be a dividend if we empower our young, but it will be a disaster if we fail to put in place a policy and a framework where they can be empowered.
So here’s what the United States is trying to do. We’re forming youth councils at our embassies and consulates to have direct contact with young people like yourselves, because for every problem, we want to seek a solution. We’ve also created an Office of Global Youth Issues in Washington to ensure ways to partner with you. And we have a young 24-year-old activist, Ronan Farrow, who’s here today, who is our advisor on global youth issues.
To paraphrase Steve Jobs, we not only need to think different; we need to think big, because if we don’t, we will miss this moment in history. Now what do young people want? I think they want the same thing as what all of us want – peace, prosperity, and dignity, a chance to participate, a chance for your voices and your votes to be heard and counted.
And there are tried and true approaches that work. In economics, we need to encourage entrepreneurship. And we have here representatives from NAPEO. Where are our NAPEO representatives? We have Tunisians who have been successful in business who are partnering with us and others to create more economic opportunities. It is focused primarily on creating jobs for young people. And we’ve created the Global Entrepreneurship Program that connects investors with young people who have good ideas and are willing to work hard to see them realized.
For example, this past fall, we sent a delegation of American investors and business leaders to Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria to meet and mentor young entrepreneurs. One of the people they met was a 25-year-old Algerian who is pioneering new e-commerce tools for communities with limited access to financial services. He came from a poor village in Algeria, and he knew that the people in his village did not have access to credit, did not have access to markets, yet they had cell phones. So using cell phones, he is providing applications that give people access to credit, to mobile banking, to information about how to start a business and how to build a business plan. An accomplished Tunisian scientist along with other Tunisian entrepreneurs have received scholarships to study business and further develop their ideas in America.
We’re going to build a momentum by organizing a Global Youth Jobs Alliance to bring in more partners and reach more people. And one area we’re going to emphasize is expanding English language training all over the world, and especially here in Tunisia, because English has become the language of commerce, and to great extent the language of the internet, although obviously it’s available in other languages. But it serves as a port of entry into the global economy. The Peace Corps is returning to Tunisia, and they will be emphasizing speaking English. We’re using the internet to do English language instruction. We’re already helping thousands of Tunisian young people with job placement and skills training. And we want to expand university educational exchange programs between the United States and Tunisia. This spring, a team of expert educators from America will travel to the Maghreb to build new links with regional business schools and training centers.
Ultimately, we know what government needs to do. They need to crack down on corruption wherever it occurs, crack down on cronyism wherever it occurs, and diversify their economies and open their markets. I hear sometimes from leaders in this region that there is a certain fear about opening their economies, but I think that does a great disservice to the people of these countries that have so much energy, and especially to young people. Opening the economies will particularly advantage the young people of Tunisia and other places.
We also want to encourage the use of social networking tools. The social media that was used to bring down the Ben Ali regime now can be used to expose corruption, encourage transparency and good government. It’s also true that this goes hand in hand with the kind of freedom that is now available, so that it is not only to make a living but it is to enable and empower people to be participants. Because after all, dignity means being treated with respect and having a voice and having the right to participate and even lead. Your new democracy needs you. Participation is a means to an end, not an end in itself. And it really requires everyone to contribute to creating the new Tunisia.
Now, obviously, people will disagree. We’ve been disagreeing with each other for 236 years in the United States. We do not all see the world the same way. But we believe in the fundamental values that undergird our democracy. One of the most common questions I am asked as I travel around the world is how, after running against Barack Obama, would I agree to work with him as his Secretary of State? And the answer is simple. We both love our country. And yes, did we compete hard? We competed very hard. I wanted to win; he won. And therefore, I had to make a choice, because it wasn’t about me; it was about what we could do together for America.
And veterans of democratic transitions from Latin America to Eastern Europe to East Asia have learned the lessons of pluralistic democracy. All political parties, religious and secular alike, have to abide by basic ground rules: reject violence; uphold the rule of law; respect the freedoms of speech, religion, association, and assembly; protect the rights of women and minorities; give up power if you are defeated at the polls; and especially in a region with deep divisions within and between religions, avoid inciting sectarian conflicts that pull societies apart.
Now here in Tunisia, an Islamist party won a plurality of the votes in an open, competitive election which we applauded. And the party leaders promised to embrace freedom of religion and full rights for women. And in my meetings today with both the president and the prime minister, that commitment was reinforced.
Also, the job of writing a constitution and governing requires cooperation across society. No one person, no one party, has all the answers. Every country is stronger by listening with respect to those with whom we differ. So to write a constitution, the governing party now then will have to work with other parties, including secular parties, and persuade voters across the political spectrum to respect fundamental principles. And Tunisians will have to make sure to hold everybody to that promise.
Now, I know that there are those here in Tunisia and elsewhere who question whether Islamist politics can really be compatible with democracy. Well, Tunisia has a chance to answer that question affirmatively, and to demonstrate there is no contradiction. And that means not just talking about tolerance and pluralism, but living it. And it is up to you to hold all political parties to the same values.
Protecting democracy is the duty of every citizen. And for the young people of Tunisia, it is a special responsibility. We watched your courage on the front lines of the revolution, men and women alike, enduring the teargas and the beatings. It takes a different kind of courage to be a guardian of your new democracy. After a revolution, history shows it can go one of two ways. It can move in the direction you are now headed, to build a strong democratic country, or it can get derailed and detoured to new autocracy, to new absolutism. The victors of revolutions can become their victims. So it is up to all Tunisians, especially young Tunisians, to resist the calls of demagogues, to build coalitions, to keep faith in your system even when your candidates lose at the polls.
After I lost to President Obama, I had many supporters who did not want me to quit and wanted me to not cooperate and wanted me to say no to any request to help. And I said absolutely not. This is about our political system. This is about our agenda. It is not about any of us. And we have to therefore protect the core principles and institutions of democracy. I understand in Tunisia you have a saying: “Continuous effort can pierce through marble.” Well, that spirit helped protestors and dissidents withstand long years of repression and ultimately topple the old regime. And I think it’s that same spirit that can help you move forward.
So I think we’re at an especially important moment. And I want to speak directly to the young women who are here, and those you represent across Tunisia, the region, and around the world, because some of the obstacles that young women face are unique. In too many places in the world today, laws and customs make it harder for women to start a business, run for office, even make personal decisions. Tunisia has stood out as a place that protected the rights of women and sent a message that there was no contradiction between culture and religion and opportunity and empowerment. And so for the young women and the young men who are here, Tunisia will need all of its sons and daughters in order to have the success you are seeking.
Recently, one of our Supreme Court justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, visited Egypt and Tunisia, and she met with your judges and other high officials. And she said something which I thought was very apt: The daughters of the Middle East should be able to aspire and achieve based on the talent God gave them and not be held back by the laws of men. So please know that as you make this incredibly historic and important journey to a democracy that produces results, politically and economically for you, the United States will stand with you.
We know something about how hard it is to build a democracy. We have been working at it for a very long time. We are now the oldest democracy in the history of the world, but we had lots of obstacles along the way. We fought a civil war to free African Americans who had been slaves. We had to amend our Constitution to let women vote. We continue to try to perfect our democracy. So don’t be too impatient, but don’t be in any way complacent. You have to keep those two in mind at the same time.
Each of you deserve the same opportunity to live up to your own God-given potential. And I am very confident – I am very, very confident that Tunisia will be successful because of you. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: We will now go for the questions and answers. And if you have a (inaudible). In your personal experience and given the history of other countries that (inaudible), what makes you feel that Tunisia (inaudible), and (inaudible) those transitions?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Linda, I will give you some of the reasons why I am optimistic, and even confident that (inaudible). First, Tunisia has, in the past, even under dictatorship, provided a set of protections for individual rights. The code of personal conduct and other laws gave to each Tunisian, man and woman, certain rights. But the government (inaudible) some of those rights. So there is a – whoo – (laughter) – there is a tradition of personal rights and empowerment in Tunisia that did not exist in most of the countries that have undergone revolutions, particularly now in the Arab world. I think that gives Tunisia a huge example, which is why I said it’s so important you cannot let anything or anybody roll back the rights that Tunisians should have.
Secondly, Tunisia is very strategically located. You look at the map – close to Europe; in the Maghreb, a region that is economically underdeveloped, where Tunisia has on average the highest standard of living and the highest level of education; to your south, huge economic opportunities. So I think Tunisia’s geographic location is very important and gives you a chance to expand your reach economically.
Thirdly, you have the benefit of your historic revolution. Tunisia was the first. Tunisia set the pace. People look to Tunisia to continue to demonstrate how one does democracy in this region. That’s a heavy responsibility, but it’s also a great opportunity. In my meetings with the government officials, one of the things we talked about is how to provide more economic help to get you through this period. And one of the big selling points is that everyone wants the Tunisian revolution and the Tunisian democracy to succeed.
And finally, I think that, as I look at the plans of the new government for job training, for employment, as I talk to the private sector, represented by NAPEO and the businesses here who invest in entrepreneurship, I think the elements are all right. There’s not any talk of, oh, let’s go back to state ownership, let’s go back to the kind of failed economic policies of the past. Tunisia’s looking forward, both in its public and its private sector.
So for all those reasons, I think that the political reforms that you’re making built on a foundation that you inherited, that, now being carried out in a democratic context, combined with the good ideas about economic growth, are quite a good combination for success. And I’ll just end, though – it can’t happen overnight. And I would, on behalf your government, on behalf of your business sector, say there has to be good planning to avoid failure. And that will take some time. It shouldn’t take too much time, but it will take some time. So impatience is, I think, a characteristic of being young, but there is a need to be thoughtful about how we’re going to secure the political and economic success here.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. So who would like to ask a question? Just think how many.
Go ahead, please.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Here comes the microphone.
MODERATOR: So if you could present yourself.
QUESTION: Hello. I’m Shaima and I’m from (inaudible). First of all, I want to say welcome to Tunisia. I mean, it’s a great pleasure that you are here today. My question is: I think that your vision about Tunisia changed after the revolution. So I want to ask you: What was your vision about Tunisia in the past, when Ben Ali was our president? And how the vision changed with time? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Very good question. I visited Tunisia one time, in 1999, when Ben Ali was president, and I came away with a very contradictory picture. On the one hand, a lot of the characteristics of the Tunisian people were evident. There was a lot of, even, energy. I could see it on the streets, I could see it in the people that I met with, but there was a ceiling imposed upon the people of Tunisia that there wasn’t any way to break through because the prior regime did not favor openness, politically or economically. They engaged in crony corruption, so that people who worked hard, who had a good idea, would not necessarily ever get a chance. So that although the energy and the potential of the Tunisian people was visible to me, the oppression that prevented the full potential of Tunisia being realized was also visible. There was a lot of emphasis on appearance rather than reality.
And I think that what has happened with the revolution here has a chance to combine the potential and the reality for the first time. And I am very excited about that because I saw that it was present, but it didn’t have anywhere to go in the prior regime.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
Go ahead, please.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Here comes the microphone.
QUESTION: Excuse me. I would prefer to speak French to avoid any misunderstanding. Is it okay?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think Leila will translate for me.
MODERATOR: Yes, I will.
QUESTION: (In French.) (Laughter.) (Applause.)
MODERATOR: So the question was that (inaudible) sees that the United States played the card of a political Islam through the card of the Middle East. And the question is --
QUESTION: What's your definition of (inaudible)?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Would my definition of moderate Islam?
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Would you consider that the (inaudible)?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first of all, I think that when you have a democratic election that represents the will of the people, you have to respect that. That’s the first thing. But then the people who are elected have to also respect their people. And that is true whether it is a Christian party, a Hindu party, or a Muslim party. And I don’t know that we get to draw a conclusion because there are many aspects of political change and democratic development that should be a base no matter what party is in charge. And I mentioned those.
A party must be willing to abide by the results of an election. So you cannot have a party get elected and then say no more elections, which is what some people have done. A party that is a religious-based party has to recognize the freedom of religion, association, assembly, and speech, so that even if you disagree with the party and the party’s positions, you are free to do so, even if it is a party based on religion, which gets people sensitive in their interaction politically.
And I think that certainly you judge political parties both by what they say and what they do. Now what we are hearing said by the Nahda party here is in accordance with democratic values. And we are watching what is done. But it is less important what the United States concludes than what the people of Tunisia conclude. You must be the guardians of your democracy.
And I think that one of the biggest problems we have in the world today is people not respecting the views of others. I’m a person of faith. I’m a Christian. I believe strongly in my faith. But I do not believe I have a right to impose my faith on you or anyone else, because there’s just too much room for the human spirit, for the conscience of people to be put in any one box. So I highly respect people of religious faith that differs from me. But I expect them to respect me, and I also believe you have to respect people who are not religious because that is their right, for whatever their reasons are. So it is difficult when you represent a religiously-based political party to do that.
And it does take time to kind of get the habits of tolerance and respect when you are a political power. But I believe that any – that if you look at the Turkish example, or the Indonesian example, there you have in Indonesia a secular party in the largest Muslim nation in the world. And in Turkey, you have an Islamic-based party which is being – which is trying very hard to be tolerant of other religions and try to demonstrate that there is no contradiction. And in fact, at the conference yesterday, the Turkish foreign minister representing the Islamist party in Turkey strongly spoke out in favor of all the minorities in Syria – including the Christians, the Kurds, the Druze, the Alawites, the Sunni, everybody. And that’s what we want from religious-based political parties. You’re free to believe what you believe and to be faithful to your religion. But when you assume political power, you have a responsibility to care for every citizen of a different religion, of a different sect, of no religion at all.
So we are watching, and we will see how it develops, because other than Turkey, there is no democratically elected Islamic-based party other than in Tunisia now, and in Egypt. And we think Tunisia is proceeding in the right direction, based on what we’re seeing, but we will continue to have a dialogue that raises questions if they arise.
Here comes the microphone. Okay. Let them go first, and then we’ll come to you, sir. No, you can go first. You can go first and then we’ll come to the gentleman.
QUESTION: Ladies first.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah. Ladies first. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Okay. First of all, it’s nice to meet you, ma’am.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Nice to meet you.
QUESTION: And you are welcome. Okay. I’m (inaudible), I’m working with OTI USAID agency. Our program is called Bridge to Democracy, and we are helping Tunisian citizens on the Tunisian transition. So when we start our program here in Tunisia, we face a lot of problems, such as the anti-Americanism. And personally, I face that problem, because I was wearing the hijab, and that was a lot of talk that how she's working with the USAID agency and she's wearing the hijab. Of course, they are forcing her maybe in the office to put off her hijab, et cetera. And when I start to communicate with associations in the office and in the field also, they start to discover, oh, she's sitting with her American colleagues and she's doing an effort to help us, and she's still wearing her hijab.
So – and so it was – and after that, after seven months of hard work, we are in the point that we can say that our work is coming more easily than before because people there start understand and realize that that was wrong judgment for me. And that was working with an American agency or company, et cetera, it's just like working with a French company, et cetera.
And so I’m asking if there is any opportunity to have more projects just like ours, especially in the interior areas, that’s – and basically touching (inaudible) youth because, as we know, all youths in the interior areas faced a lot of problems and suffered and faced also marginalization in Ben Ali's regime and paid a lot to have their freedom in the revolution. So we want them to feel like they still an effective element, and we are care about them even now. I know that the revolution – so I’m asking if there is any opportunity for a concrete project, especially in the interior area. And I want to say that especially to make them feel like we all citizens here appreciate what you did in the revolution, and all – and the whole Arabic world also. So we want to make them feel that we are (inaudible). Thank you so much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, the short answer to your question is we are – (laughter) – hoping to have more and more projects. But the longer answer – because you said a number of things which I think are very important – first, let me say a word about the hijab. I think, just as in our country, women have the right to wear it or not wear it if they are Muslim Americans. We have millions of Muslim Americans. Some wear it; most don’t wear it. But that’s their decision. And I think it’s very important, if you proceed with this democratic revolution, that people are not pressured to wear it or not wear it, because that should be your individual choice in a democracy. And that will be one of the important signposts – are people being forced to.
Now, personally, I think that you will face extremists who are trying to really change the Tunisian culture. And why extremists always focus on women is a mystery to me. But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in. They want to control women. They want to control how we dress, they want to control how we act, they want to control everything about us. This is the 21st century. You are obviously an intelligent young woman who’s made your own choice, and I respect that. And I want every woman here to make her own choice, and we should all respect that as well. That, to me, is a central absolute principle within a democracy. Don’t try to use extremist rhetoric and actions to intimidate women. And the United States strongly stands against that.
Secondly, the United States believes in freedom of religion, and we practice it. We have people who are extremists in the United States, but we basically just sort of put them down. So when you say that coming to work for an American project, people were anti-American – if you want to be a democracy, people need to look to see what works in a democracy. And as I say, we’ve been working at this for a very long time. So I think we have demonstrated that we support democracy, and we support it where it is occurring. So we want to be as supportive as possible based on the principles of what a democracy really is. And I think that anyone who believes in democracy should open their eyes to America, because this is where one learns about what makes a democracy where you have people who are different. And people are different everywhere.
And finally, we are working to help in the interior, because you’re absolutely right – it’s true in rural areas everywhere, people who are denied opportunity, who don’t have much of a chance to get educated, to have jobs, they are easy prey for extremism and for despair, and they feel left out. And oftentimes, it’s poor people like the man who started this, the young vegetable vendor who set himself on fire. It is poor people who pay the biggest price. So we want to work with people like you here in Tunisia to support projects that will help people in the interior and elsewhere.
So, thank you for all your points. And then this man in the white shirt I promised. Yes.
QUESTION: My name is (inaudible). I’m a young legal counsel. My question touches a little bit on the issue raised by the young lady here. I think that there exists among many young people in Tunisia across the region a deep feeling of mistrust towards the West in general and the United States in particular. And many observers partly explain the surge of extremism in the region and in Tunisia by this skepticism. And even among the mainstream of moderate and pro-Western youth, there is a sense of despair and fatalism when it comes to the possibility of building a real and lasting partnership that is based on mutual interests. So is the United States aware of this issue? And how do you think we can address it?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes. I can speak for both President Obama and myself. We are aware of it. We regret it. We feel that it doesn’t reflect the values or the policy of the United States. And there are several reasons as we understand them. Some people say, well, you supported the prior regimes in these countries. Well, those were the governments. If you’re a government, who do you deal with? You deal with the governments that are in place. And yes, we did. We dealt with the governments that were in place, just like we deal with the governments elsewhere. Right now, we’re in a big argument with Russia and China because they won’t agree to the Security Council resolution to help the poor people in Syria. But we don’t stop dealing with Russia and China across a whole range of issues because we have serious disagreements with them.
So I think part of it is to recognize the reality that governments have to deal with, and to look at the whole picture, because the United States has spent enormous amounts of money and treasure trying to help people achieve their own freedom. We did it certainly in the long Cold War against the Soviet Union and then helped millions of people under Soviet rule find their way to freedom. We’ve done it in Asia, where we protected Japan and South Korea against problems coming from communism, and they are now thriving, successful, democratic economies. We worked for a long time to help Indonesia. Indonesia has now been a democracy for more than a decade, and their economy is booming, and they are demonstrating you can be both a Muslim nation and a successful nation. We stood up against apartheid in South Africa and supported their struggle for freedom. We could go all over the world where you can see that.
But we also have to deal with the reality that we confront in trying to make decisions about how to conduct our foreign policy. And we – I mean, you remember, President Obama mentioned the Tunisia revolution in the State of the Union. I mean, we were thrilled to see Tunisia having this chance to build a democracy, and we are here to help. We are here with financial help, we are here with technical help, and looking for every way we can to make you successful.
So I always ask people to consider the source of criticism of the United States. I will be the first to say we, like any country in the world, have made mistakes. I will be the first to say that. We’ve made a lot of mistakes. But I think if you look at the entire historical record, the entire historical record shows we’ve been on the side of freedom, we’ve been on the side of human rights, we’ve been on the side of free markets and economic empowerment. And that is where the bulk of the evidence, in my view, rests.
You said you were a lawyer? (Laughter.) I used to be one. (Laughter.) So I think we can make a very strong case, and that’s what we’re doing, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m here, to do it in person.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
Okay. Go ahead, please.
QUESTION: Welcome, Secretary of State. I am (inaudible), I am a voluntary with an association to prevent prevalence and prevention of HIV and STI (inaudible) for English for communication, too. First of all, I want to say that I find that you are so elegant from the (inaudible). And then I’m going to follow with my two questions.
SECRETARY CLINTON: See why I love Tunisia? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you. We love you, too. So my first question is about collaboration.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Collaboration? Yes.
QUESTION: Yes. To which extent do you found that the collaboration between our respective nations, the United States of America and Tunisia today, is important to maintain and preserve democracy? This is from on part. From another part, the – my second question, I mean: Since freedom – liberties and freedom are involved in any and all democracies – today, there are a lot of minorities in Tunisia. We can say also sexual minorities. So what are the strategies that – may the United States of America give as advice to Tunisian Government in order to preserve freedom of these minor – sexual minorities? And so what are the ideologies and doctrines that you can give to youth today in order to reach the best level? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, those are three very, very significant questions.
First on collaboration, we have received an aide memoire from the government with requests for collaboration in higher education, vocational training, health, trade, investment, business development, security, everything you can think of that is important to protect and build a good democracy. And we are looking at all of them. We’re going to help as much as we can. We’re going to reach out to other countries so that we have international collaboration. But speaking just for the United States, we are committed to improving our collaboration across a full range of important issues in Tunisia. And we want to do it in a way that involves not just the government, but the private sector, the business community, the civil society, and especially young people. So that’s the first thing.
The second thing, on the issue of the LGBT community, we believe strongly no minority, regardless of why one is a minority – whether it’s ethnic, religious, sect, sexual orientation – should be discriminated against, that in today’s modern world, we are seeing the need for everyone’s human potential to be respected. Every human being has dignity. I mean, if you believe, as the people of faith do, we are all created in God’s image, and we all have an obligation to treat one another with dignity and respect. And we think that needs to be part of the political system of any democracy. So we strongly support that. I gave a speech in Geneva a few months ago specifically addressing that because, in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa, if you are a homosexual, you can be killed, you can be imprisoned, just for being who you are. And we think that’s wrong. So we are standing strongly on behalf of human rights and human dignity for every person.
And finally, I think it’s important when you think about what needs to be done for young people in Tunisia, it’s not so different as to what needs to be done anywhere in the world for young people. Young people need to be educated. And in Tunisia, you have a lot of educated young people, and then in the interior and elsewhere, you have people who don’t have the same opportunity to be educated. So with those who are not yet fully educated, the education levels need to be raised. With people who are educated, even if you have a college degree, a university degree, it has to be marketable. So we have to take people who are educated and equip them for the modern economy. So there are skills and opportunities that must be made available even for educated Tunisians.
So I think that the education imperative, the education dividend, is what’s really important in the modern world. Secondly, you need a government that empowers you, not oppresses you. You now have such a government. Think of all the people you know who had to leave Tunisia because they were not free to speak, they were not free to act, and they had to leave. And we want Tunisians to be able to stay at home and develop their full God-given potential. And you’ve got to make sure your government empowers you to do that.
And then finally, Tunisia needs to reach out to the rest of the world. I think that a lot of Europe knows quite a bit about Tunisia, but the United States average person doesn’t know a lot about Tunisia. Latin America, Asia – you’ve got to reach out to the rest of the world, and you can do that through all kinds of social media, through all kinds of alliances. We’re going to start this Global Youth Alliance to try to create more jobs. Tunisian young people need to be in the center of the action in the world. I think having more English-speakers will help that. Not that – French and Arabic, they’re very important, but I only speak one language. I feel very disadvantaged. And I think the more we can get more English speakers throughout Tunisia, that will add to the ability to network around the world.
So I think all the ingredients are here. If you look at the indicators on Tunisia – higher than average education, higher than average income already – so you just have to put the ingredients together to bake it up, and you’re going to have a very positive outcome.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Unfortunately, we only have time for one more question.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, I talked too much. I’m sorry.
MODERATOR: Sorry about that. And I’m going to go on the left, because I haven’t had the opportunity to hear them yet, so please go ahead.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I’ll stay. I’ll have one more after that. So Leila, the pressure on you. Okay.
QUESTION: My name is Ivan. After the electoral campaign starts in the United States – it started some time ago – we noticed here in Tunisia that most of the candidates from the both sides run towards the Zionist lobbies to get their support in the States. And afterwards, once they are elected, they come to show their support for countries like Tunisia and Egypt for a common Tunisian or a common Arab citizen. How would you reassure and gain his trust again once given the fact that you are supporting his enemy as well at the same time?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, let me say you will learn as your democracy develops that a lot of things are said in political campaigns that should not bear a lot of attention. There are comments made that certainly don’t reflect the United States, don’t reflect our foreign policy, don’t reflect who we are as a people. I mean, if you go to the United States, you see mosques everywhere, you see Muslim Americans everywhere. That’s the fact. So I would not pay attention to the rhetoric.
Secondly, I would say watch what President Obama says and does. He’s our President. He represents all of the United States, and he will be reelected President, so I think that that will be a very clear signal to the entire world as to what our values are and what our President believes. So I think it’s a fair question because I know that – I sometimes am a little surprised that people around the world pay more attention to what is said in our political campaigns than most Americans, say, are paying attention. So I think you have to shut out some of the rhetoric and just focus on what we’re doing and what we stand for, and particularly what our President represents.
MODERATOR: One more.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, no. Too many hands.
MODERATOR: On the back, we haven’t heard anyone from the back. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Emna. I’m an undergraduate of the Tunisia – at the Mediterranean School of Business. Just before you pointed out how important is entrepreneurship to the new economy in Tunisia, and as the fellow at the Tunisian Center for Social Entrepreneurship, I would like to ask you if there are any specific programs to encourage the engagement of youth in social entrepreneurship. And what are these programs if there are any? Thanks.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, the short answer is there are programs being made in both economic and social entrepreneurship. And we have a number of people here who are working on it. Would the NAPEO people stand up again? Just stand up. I want everyone, all the young people, to see you. Each one of these men and women are part of our entrepreneurship efforts for business. So if you are interested in that, I don’t want to impose on you, but I would love to have people to come talk to you because Tunisia will sponsor the Global Entrepreneurship Conference in 2013. And there will be opportunities for mentoring, for your ideas to get financial support, to go to the United States, to get more information about how to start a business, how to continue a business. So on the economic entrepreneurship side, we have a lot of very experienced people who are Tunisian success stories themselves that we are partnering with.
On the social entrepreneurship side, we have many programs. And I would ask our ambassador to share with our Embassy website and all of those programs listed. I assume it does, Ambassador. And that they’re – that we will have somebody available to talk with anyone who wants to know more about the social entrepreneurship program. Because from our view, there are a number of ways we can work on both the economic and the social side, and so part of our social entrepreneurship is to create more Tunisian-U.S. university partnerships, more chances for young Tunisians to study in the United States, to bring scholars and students from the United States to Tunisia to study, to have more exchanges so that we can actually meet face to face and perhaps eliminate some of the preconceptions about each other, which I think would be good.
I know that if – no two human beings are going to agree on everything, but it’s always important to try to get rid of what’s not true and focus on what is true, and if we have areas of disagreement, to narrow the areas of disagreement.
So I’m very excited about what our program, in working in collaboration with Tunisia, will be. And I will be working closely not only with the government but with the private sector and civil society, because it takes all three. When you think about a democratic society, it’s like a three-legged stool. You need an accountable, responsible, effective government. And it’s up to the citizens to hold that government accountable. You need a well-functioning and efficient business sector to create jobs, create wealth, give people opportunities. And you need a strong civil society to speak out on behalf of the needs of people – homeless people, uneducated people, discriminated-against people – and to stand up for the rights of all people against both business and the government.
So if you remove one of those legs of the stool, the stool falls over. So – and if one leg is longer than the other, if the government is too powerful, the stool falls over. If the business sector is unaccountable, corrupt, filled with cronyism, the stool falls over. If civil society is absent, the stool falls over.
So we want to work with all three legs of the Tunisian stool, try to make sure that we are helping each become strong and demonstrate, first and most important to the Tunisian people, but then to the Arab world and the entire world, what Tunisia is doing, because we believe you have a great story to tell.
Thank you all.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Unfortunately – (applause) –
SECRETARY CLINTON: And let me add, because I see a lot of hands, if you will send your questions to the Embassy website – right, Ambassador? Can you give them the address? What is the address of the Embassy website? Who has it? Where is it?
PARTICIPANT: We can send it to them by email. We have their emails.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Okay. If you go to the website – if you will send in your questions, I will answer all of them. Okay? So I know there were lots of hands left, and I want to answer all your questions. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. (Applause.)
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