Luca and I visited Tunisia last summer. Now that the country is going through revolts, the president Ben Ali has fled country, etc., I find it interesting to remember some of the thoughts and a conversation we then had.
During our trip we had a wonderful guide called Mohammed. We found it funny that he repeated many times some of its explanations. The good thing is that they have stuck in the memory. Some are irrelevant to this post such as “the North of the country produces the citrus fruit”; but others are related to the current situation.
Several times, he praised Habib Burgiba, the first president of the republic, for having modernized the country, extended suffrage to women (“before than in Switzerland!”) and provided free basic education to everyone. He also mentioned that about 20% of the members of the parliament were women.
Habib Burgiba was then judged by some medical experts as not in conditions to run the country, thus the charge was taken by Ben Ali, one of his ministers, and the president until this week.
Travelling through the country, my attention had been caught by the many pictures you could see of the president showing him as a kind of saviour (could you imaging such pictures of the prime minister in every corner of your country?).
In the way to the Sahara, we stopped at a service station and were having some chips and refreshments when our guide, Mohammed (who was fasting as it was Ramadan), came to us to chat. I then intentionally posed him the question: “Mohammed, you mentioned that there were 20% of women in the parliament, Ben Ali is in office for 23 years, this means he must have won 4 or 5 elections; do you elect him?”
He smiled, and softly replied, as if someone was going to listen, “there are elections, but they are not real. There is someone who acts as an alternative, but everybody knows that the president is going to win… it’s not a real democracy, it’s like in all Arab countries; there are no real democracies… well, may be with the exception of Lebanon, but then, they are not Arabs but Phoenicians…”
Let’s see if this time they finally get to have a real democracy, they deserve something better, at least Mohammed does.