Showing posts with label tunisia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tunisia. Show all posts

Friday, March 6, 2009

Notes on Tunisia

Tunisia is a small nation sandwiched between two giant neighbors, Algeria and Libya. By some quirk of fate, this country shaped like an elongated seahorse was spared the heavy boot of colonialism and managed to maintain some semblance of self-identity as a protectorate of France. Some positive fallout of its relationship with France are that Tunisians make great tasting bread, croissants and pastries and most of the population have some fluency in French.

About a decade after WWII, Tunisia achieved its independence from France, more or less amicably with only a modicum amount of bloodshed. Since independence, the country has been blessed (or cursed depending on one’s point of view) with two strong national leaders. Bourguiba, (1903-2000) the first leader after independence, was a progressive who pushed the country to establish a national identity and modernize, provided free public education and enacted the emancipation of women. Whether his being educated in France and marrying a French woman had anything to do to influence his ideas is worthy of ponder. He also kept the country secular and a lid on the Islamic religious institutions from getting too powerful. In 1975, the National Assembly made an error of electing him president for life, not anticipating that he was to become senile within a decade.

Since Bourguiba lived to a ripe old age of 96, it was a good thing that his then prime minister, Ben Ali forcibly retired the president-for-life on November 7, 1987, and took over the presidency. There are now monuments in virtually every town square celebrating this date, most notably being the clock tower on Bourguiba Avenue, the main drag of the capital Tunis. Since then, Ben Ali has been successively re-elected to 5 year terms of office, president for life in effect though not in name. Ben Ali, ubiquitous portraits of his friendly smiling face everywhere, has basically continued his predecessor’s progressive policies and the country has enjoyed decades of stability.

With stability, Tunisia enjoyed a standard of living superior to its neighbors and the population seems generally content. The economy is growing at a healthy 5% per year and the population at around 1%. The steady loosening of Tunisia, the emphasis on stability and the drive to modernize seem reminiscent of Deng Xiao Ping’s pragmatic policies, except Bourguiba pre-dated Deng by more than two decades. Deng also studied in France in his early formative years. Perhaps there is something about France that is nurturing to progressive revolutionaries.

Sidi Bou Said