Friday, April 4, 2014

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Officially known as the Tunisian Republic, this country is the smallest in the Maghreb Region of North Africa.  Its population is estimated to be just over ten million people.  Its land encompasses the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Dessert.  This juxtaposition of immense land features alone is enough to make me want to visit.  It is the closest African country to Europe after Gibraltar.  The European influence is evident throughout this country's history.

Tunisia has an association agreement with the European Union.  It is one of several African countries that benefit from this relationship.  Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and South Africa also have these agreements.  On paper, these agreements facilitate political, economic and trade benefits for the countries for the countries involved.  I think that many times, European countries use these agreements to take advantage of the natural resources of countries on the African continent.  Rarely are these agreements implemented for purely philanthropic reasons.

Tunisia's recorded history goes back thousands of years.  It was settled by Berbers back in 4000 BC.  Berbers are an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa.  When the Muslims conquered this area in the 7th century, a mixture of Arabic languages have been spoken here since.  Ancient Berbers included Saint Augustine of Hippo and the Berber-Roman general Lusius Quietus.  Modern Berbers include Zinedine Zidane and Ibrahim Afellaywho who are both football players.  We call the game soccer here in the United States.

Tunisia is home to magnificent mosques and has excellent archaeological sites.  It was invaded by Spain at one time.  The Ottomans conquered the capital city Tunis in 1534.  During the 16th and 17th century.  During this time, the Ottoman Empire was one of the most powerful in the world.  One of its leaders was Suleiman the Magnificent.  Tunisia was easily accessible from the Sicilian Strait and the Sardinian Channel.  The mixture of races that invaded this country has produced a racial classification that extends beyond Berber and Arab.

The French invaded Tunisia in 1869.  Here in America, we were in the early stages of recovery from the Civil War at this point in history.  Tunisia was bankrupt at the time and the French used this as an excuse to make the country a protectorate.  Once again, it wasn't for charitable reasons alone.  In the early 1900's there were over 240,000 Italian and French citizens living in Tunisia.  Why is it that these countries have such a hard time accepting African immigrants today?  It was okay when we were being taken advantage of.  Close the borders now and keep the foreigners out.

The first Tunisian President elected upon independence from France was Habib Bourguiba.  He was elected in 1956.  He served until he was declared mentally unfit in 1987.  On November 7th of that year, which is a national holiday in Tunisia, Prime Minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali replaced Mr. Bourguiba.  He was re-elected every year until he fled the country amid popular unrest in January 2011.  Two presidents who ruled for over fifty years between them.  I can imagine the heavy handed tactics that were used to stay in power.  When it fell apart, Mr. Ali had to flee the country.

The protests in Tunisia actually led to the start of the Arab Spring.  The country had been suffering from high unemployment, food inflation and corruption for years.  Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in 2010 because his livelihood was confiscated by a municipal official.  The anger and unrest generated by his death led to the overthrow of Mr. Ali after 23 years in power.  The Arab Spring, which led to the downfall of leaders in Africa and the Middle East, had begun. 


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