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Oral history interview with Hatem Atallah, 2015

Creator: Atallah, Hatem
Project: Tunisian Transition oral history collection.
(see all project interviews)
Phys. Desc. :Transcript: 77 pages
Location: Columbia Center for Oral History
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Biographical Note

Ambassador Hatem Atallah is currently Executive Director of the Anna Lindh Foundation. Coming from a rich diplomatic background, he was the Tunisian ambassador in several countries including US, UK, South Africa and Ethiopia. He was also the Permanent Representative to the African Union, the Economic Commission for Africa, UNEP and UN-Habitat. In addition, he was appointed as Diplomatic Advisor to the Head of the Tunisian Government Prime Minister Medhi Jomaa until February 2015.

Scope and Contents

Hatem Atallah remembers that despite the unpredictability and rapidity of the Tunisian Revolution, the Tunisian state continued to function. As a career diplomat, he was well prepared for his new position with the Jomaa government, which simply represented an increase in responsibility. Atallah was part of Mehdi Jomaa's early and close circle, and describes his deep involvement in the recruitment of cabinet members. The group was looking for fresh ideas, and networks cultivated during Atallah's (and Ghazi Jomaa's) tenure in the Foreign Ministry were sufficiently expansive to deliver these, including from the Tunisian diaspora. Atallah suggests that Jomaa's term was characterized by clarity of the way forward for Tunisians, for Tunisian politicians, and for the international community. Atallah describes a typical day: Jomaa's approach was a combination of structure and flexibility, and remarkably consistent. Atallah speaks to what he has learned from Jomaa, especially in terms of Jomaa's long-term strategy. Atallah describes the fundamental principles of foreign policy under Jomaa, and how the decision to retain Ben Ali's minister of interior fit into those principles. He enumerates successful diplomatic encounters, especially Jomaa's visit with Barack Obama. He claims that the Tunisian system was not corrupt; instead, a few key individuals were corrupt. He describes several challenges, or tense moments. Finally, Atallah talks about being inspired by participating in Jomaa's project.

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