'I Think We Have to Be Bolder' Says Ruling Party Member
TUNIS — NO sooner has Mohamed Sayah pulled his sedan onto the street in front of his suburban Tunis home than a small silver car pulls out to follow. "They're my guardian angels," says Mr. Sayah, smiling into the rear-view mirror at the second car's two front-seat passengers.
Sayah, a former Tunisian minister and ambassador, says he is under constant surveillance by his own government.
An Interior Ministry spokesman insists that if such surveillance takes place, it is the result of the "zeal" of certain police rather than a government attempt at intimidation.
But Sayah says it is not an isolated incident.
As a member of Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), the party in power, he is hardly a subversive. But while he supports President Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali, Sayah has some ideas that differ from those of the government. He also willingly expresses his admiration for former Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba, under whom he served, and who was removed from office in 1987 by Mr. Ben Ali, then the interior minister.
"I agree with the presidential regime, but I think we have to be bolder, to promote reform that leads to a balance between the legislative and the executive," says Sayah. "I think President Bourguiba would have been moving in that direction."
Sayah is not alone in his admiration for Bourguiba, and that may indeed be the source of Sayah's problems.
"The government is scared of Bourguiba, they know people still look up to him," says Ezzedine, a medical student who laments what he considers an attempt to erase Bourguiba's memory.
"It shows a lack of maturity, and a lack of faith in people's ability to manage the democratic process."
Few people here view the former president as a paragon of democratic values. It was under Bourguiba that 1981 legislative elections, which historians say resulted in heavy support for opposition parties, were massively falsified.
But Sayah, still a believer in what he calls the "modern and progressive spirit of Bourguiba," says he would like to see a "Bourguiba current" in the RCD. If that met resistance, he'd like to start a new party.
The chances of that seem unlikely. Sayah says he was recently summoned by the Interior Ministry and told to cease "political activities."
And then there is the reminder in the form of the silver car at his bumper.
"It's just a message they're giving," he says, "but it does make me a little ashamed of my country."