Monday, August 31, 2015


Ibn Khaldun, founding father of sociology and economics
Like most of north Africa, Tunisia is a former French colony, though the Italians actually conquered it first, and the French only acquired it after invading in the 1880s and making it a protectorate, until it granted independence in 1956. 

The first president, Habib Bourgiba, ran the place as a strict one-party state for the next thirty-one years, though untypically he repressed rather than encouraged Islamic fundamentalism, and gave women a freedom and status in the society such as no other Arab or Moslem nation would ever approve. 

His regime was overthrown in a bloodless coup in November 1987, after which Zine el Abidine Ben Ali doppelgangered the autocracy and brutality of his predecessor. The “Arab Spring” that swept across the Middle East actually began in Tunisia, when hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the street to express their anger about…well almost everything actually, from high unemployment to official corruption to the impact of ever higher food prices on the existing condition of widespread poverty. On 14 January 2011 Ben Ali sacked the government and fled the country, after which a national unity government was put in place and elections for a new Constituent Assembly held in October. A much respected human rights activist named Moncef Marzouki was appointed interim president and a new constitution was ratified in January 2014. Presidential and parliamentary elections for a permanent government are in the planning, but the nation has collapsed into anarchy and Islamic radicalism, making the transition to democracy as unlikely as is the continuation of western tourism in the wake of the shooting on the beaches in June 2015.

Ben Ali is now in exile in Saudi Arabia, which is refusing even to discuss extradition; to see the list of charges brought against him and his former cabinet colleagues, and the sentences handed out in his absence, take a look at

Wanting to write more about these countries than just what is by now the formulaic reiteration of the same human evils and failures, you might not know the greatness and glory of Tunisia’s past, for it was in Tunisia that the ancient city of Carthage was built by the Phoenicians, and the tiny inland town of Keirouan is regarded as the fourth holiest city in Islam (see photo, right), having provided its religious centre for centuries when the Moslem Arabs controlled the whole of the Magreb, and their empire extended northwards into all of Spain and Portugal, most of southern France, as well as Sicily and most of southern Italy. Every single one of the "great discoveries" of the European Enlightenment, in the fields of chemistry and astrology, physics and engineering, medicine and mathematics (the discoveries, that is, of Copernicus and Galileo, Tycho Brahe and Giordano Bruno, Johannes Kepler and William Harvey and even Isaac Newton), every single one of them had already been made, in some cases five hundred years earlier, by the great men of the Arab Moslem world from Baghdad to Cordoba. Not something you are likely to be taught in a European History course in a school in the English or French speaking worlds, where the same people are simply "Infidel", "heathens" and "barbarians". My novel on this subject, "The Persian Fire", is due for publication very soon.

Marks for: 1 (the number of absolutely amazing holidays I took in Tunisia when it was still a country you felt safe to visit even if its politics was rather questionable)

Marks against: 38 (the number of foreign tourists killed in the beach shootings)

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