Thanks for this very thoughtful analysis on an overlooked Tunisa...I especially enjoyed your historical reach.
A friend sent this to me, as I am living in Tunisia. It is an accurate and correct view of the country, its situation and the players at this time.
I have high hopes, as do my neighbors, the "elite" as he calls them, Western, cosmopolitans. Yet....arabs at the same time. At a party in these areas, sexy clothing, immaculate make-up, high heels and French suits on the men are the norm BUT traditional arabic music is always a part of the entertainment and gets everyone dancing! It is a marvelous mix at a wedding, where there is ample alcohol, but not one person drunk or obnoxious. We are talking 400-800 guests and a free bar. So more civilised than some of the weddings I have seen in US, Norway or UK! If you are at all interesterd in history, whether it be WW II (the allied cemetary, founded by Eisenhower is a walk from here), the Romans or the Carthaginians.....come and visit!
I spent a lot of time in Tunisia recently (6 + months) and return often.
I respect Totten and this is a good piece. I think what he misses is the overall trend in Tunisia, which is actually away from the center and the moderate space in which Totten finds so much hope. All the energy there seems to be with the Salafists - people always describe them as a tiny minority, but they've seen 200% growth in the last year. They're not going to be a tiny minority for long at this rate. The government has relinquished its monopoly on the use of violence and the Salafists are making a weekly habit of severely beating people with whom they disagree. Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum, the UGTT (Tunisia's extremely powerful union) is akin to the Tea Party in its sort of undifferentiated rage that doesn't ever coalesce into a meaningful program. The more reasonable secular folks are, if they have the ability to at all, leaving the country. What's left is a population that is more divided, more ignorant, and less capable. The high-water mark for the Arab Spring in Tunisia may be behind us.
Or they might just muddle through and be more or less okay in the end. I realize this is probably more likely. But I did not come away from my time there optimistic.
One of the clearest and hope inspiring essay I've read on the region in years.
Thank you for this informative article. So much 'information' about this part of the world is someone's unashamed slant.
When I was a kid I also learned a Jewish tradition that the Septuagint was translated in Djerba (under Ptolemy II in 3rd Century BCE), but I can't find anything on this online. I have found mention of Alexandria, but no source for that either, so I'll stick with Djerba in Tunisia until I hear better. :) Jews have been in Djerba since the destruction of the First Temple (6th Century BCE).
Tunisia is really a part of Italy. Like Sicily it was conquered by Muslims it unfortunately it never managed to expel the invaders. Maybe they will manage it someday and return to their roots.
I just don't understand Muslims venerating Carthage and Hannibal. His name means Graceful One of Baal, for G-d's sake. And they were Molekh worhipers (throw the baby in the fire). But Egyptians used to be the same way being proud of their ancestors. It would be like the Jews tracing themselves back to those lovely Canaanites. Any such movement is Israel is extremely small and regarded as crackpots. And I would think the Jews are far more secular than the Tunisians, but maybe I'm wrong.
Excellent, excellent article! I wonder if anyone in our State Department knows any of this. Probably not.
What's with giving up on Libya? The tribal groups are acting rationally, social services are ahead of what Gaddafi provided, and there is oil money rolling in. Good doesn't have to be perfect.
Egypt does need to cut deals with Israel to survive economically. That may or may not happen, so everything there is up in the air. But they are not being ruled by crazy people.
Arab Spring is doing better than anybody in corporate media predicted. It's been nay-saying all the way.
Good background information on Tunisia.
I suppose if any Arab country has a shot at entering the modern world, it is Tunisia for the reason you described.
The only thing missing from your analysis is the economic factor. Poverty and backwardness go hand-in-hand. Just look at Egypt.
I do not see Tunisia succeeding as a democracy. I see the radicals crushing the life from the country and joining the dream of a Islamic Empire bent on destroying the last vestages of Western Civilization.
Time will tell.
An enjoyable article; thanks!
I have spent some time in Tunisia, and this article reflects my own experience and observations there.