French eyes wide shut over Tunisia

Vacation in Tunisia


By Elif Kayi

The weather is cloudy and rainy. It is the beginning of the year and work is already stressful. A colleague is on sick leave and you have to take up her assignments. You really feel like having a break: a nice, quiet, peaceful break, far away from the office and the boss, whose face is turning as grey as the sky in Paris. You are diving into some cocooning mood… You type a few key words on Google. « Cheap+Holiday ».


“One week all-inclusive at the Hôtel Tunisia Lodge 4* in Tunis: 179 euros.” Who can beat that? It’s so tempting… Click! It’s done. In four weeks’ time you’ll board the plane of a charter company from Charles de Gaulle airport to Tunis. Novelair maybe? They have a pretty bad record and commentaries in the Internet… You fear for your safety? So what! Thousands of tourists fly every month with such companies and, apart from very rare exceptions, nothing ever happened to them.

Why should you feel guilty about anything? It is not your fault! Why should one watch over you with an evil eye? Once again, it is not your fault! Why should anyone feel any kind of aversion or resentment about your freshly booked vacation? Anyone would have done the same thing. And they probably already have.

For you, Tunisia is a place for a relaxed vacation. The whole country is a kind of holiday resort.  How could you think differently given the nice lullabies your government is singing to you about this country?  Whenever you hear about Tunisia here, it is either when coming across tourist ads offering unbeatable prices – like Morocco and Turkey, but for a few dozen euros less. On some other rare occasions you might also have heard about the good economic situation of the country: the « tiger of the Maghreb » as they like to call it. Nothing to compare with the agitated neighbour Algeria, or the lagging Morocco. Tunisia has things under control!

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You like sending and receiving emails. You like using Facebook and you are slowly getting used to Twitter. You fancy forums, chats, Messenger. You enjoy reading online newspapers and listening to web radios. But you do not know what a proxy is. Why not? Because you never had to care about that sort of stuff. Where you live, where you work, you just have to switch on your computer and Internet is working. It is as simple as that. From there you can have access to –nearly – all websites, apart, maybe, from those, that have been suspended because of racist insults or (more likely) pornographic content – but they are far from being suspended completely.

Caricature of French president Nicolas Sarkozy

You like to make fun of your president. Yes, I agree that some of you had to bear the consequences of such fun. For instance when wearing a little poster « Casse toi pov’ con » (“Fuck you, poor jerk“).  But this could maybe have been a chance for you to discover what it meant, not to make fun of one’s president. Not because he is a respectable person. No. Only because you just cannot. It is as simple as that. One other difference: If you agreed with, or simply pitied the guy wearing the poster, you then had the right to feel offended by the charges that the « agitator » had faced. Though I am not quite sure whether you took the chance. But it was there at least.

Your Minister of Foreign Affairs, Michelle Alliot-Marie, declared herself to be worried about the security in Tunisia. During a recent speech at the French National Assembly she suggested that « the know-how of [the French] security forces, which is recognised internationally, could solve security situations of this type ». Nice try? So it is all about security. Maybe you should avoid going there if there is a security problem. But so what? There are many countries with security problems and people still travel there.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Tunisian (ex)president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali

Anyway, you know that the French government cares about democracy. Just look how worried they seem to be regarding the political agitation in Ivory Coast. They do care about democracy and all kinds of freedom. So if there were so many problems there (in Tunisia), “they” would have said something. Some rare officials did, but the sound of their voice was not loud enough to reach your ears. Just remember how both presidents Jacques Chirac and then Nicolas Sarkozy were the first to warmly congratulate Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali each time he was (re)elected. He was the one president saying that what people need is bread.

And somehow you deeply believe he is right. Look at other countries around the world. In many countries the citizens lack everything, including bread. So at least they do not starve in Tunisia, do they? People like to complain, when they should be happy with what they already have, you think vaguely, in a pseudo-philosophical moment.

Anyway, what’s that Sidi Bouzid all about? Never heard of it. You thought there were only places called Hamammet, Nabeul, Djerba, Monastir, Matmata… What? There is also some disturbance in Sousse? A friend of a friend went on vacation there, you seem to remember. So is this serious then? And now the president has just escaped? You heard that France is not willing to welcome him? Air France has canceled its flights? What’s going on?

You come back on your computer. Maybe you should just spend a few dozens euros more and go to Morocco or Turkey instead…



Filed under North Africa, Politics

3 responses to “French eyes wide shut over Tunisia

  1. Marina

    Elif! GREAT WORK! I share exactly the same thoughts! I spent a week in Tunisia before getting to know Tunisians through YLVP. And how different the country seemed. I felt that I was missing a piece of the puzzle when I was there, and I felt guilty about not knowing some things later on. Just a simply thing like not being able to reach YouTube? It is double, because (as with Egypt) tourism feeds the country to a great extent. But there is something disgustingly colonial about how the westerners travel there, to designated paradise like areas which are designed to hide away the problems and uphold the illusion the tourists are paying for. Thank you for this text.

  2. Gulsen

    Great piece Elif!!

  3. Amazing post. Thx a lot. I will back here soon.

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