What economic recovery in Tunisia requires

Political leaders must recognise that decisiveness, rather than continued delays of needed reform, are benefit of democracy.


While Tunisians can feel proud that they have had a rather bloodless uprising in 2010 that has led to a democratic transition, many of the country’s socio-economic ills that had triggered the popular revolt have not been addressed and have only become more apparent in the country’s free media environ­ment. And while numerous countries have been helping Tunisia and continue to offer more help, the question now being asked of Tunisian authori­ties requesting additional funding is, “Let’s see your plan?”

A veteran Tunisian diplomat bemoans that “people do not want to make decisions that may be economically painful to part of the population, so they simply avoid making such decisions”.

Ever since the 2010 uprising, successive governments have yielded to social demands by acquiescing to higher salaries and more recruitment of employees in public service under trade union and street pressures. Terrorist incidents rendered the business environment even more difficult.

“It has been a less painful deci­sion for politicians to carry on big spending policies to keep people happy,” notes an American con­sultant who has lived many years in Tunisia. Rather, Tunisian politi­cians have been trying to “buy people’s happiness by spending money hiring friends and relatives for already bloated ministries and keeping subsidies which the coun­try can ill afford”.

Tunisian authorities are well aware of studies done by organi­sations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund that clearly point out the country’s problems as well as the steps to remedy them. However, implementing decisive plans that address factors which inhibit eco­nomic growth, such as the bloated bureaucracy and its excessive red tape, does not seem a prior­ity. Queries as to when such plans will be implemented are usually answered with: “We are studying them.”

Tunisia’s social pressures, added to domestic and regional security threats, have constituted extraor­dinary challenges since 2011. Even before that, Tunisia was plagued by an inertia problem. Refusal to introduce necessary reforms led to economic stagnation and eventu­ally to social implosion.

Contrast Tunisia with countries that have truly shown foreign investors that the welcome mat is out and that they are “business friendly”. The United Arab Emir­ates, Singapore, Malaysia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Turkey are a few of the countries that have cut the red tape required to start a business. All have made the process of converting profits into exportable currency and changing banking regulations to provide the opportunity for businesses to take advantage of e-commerce. And all accomplished these goals in a few years.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Tunis used to boast about the op­portunities available to tech busi­nesses in Tunisia taking advantage of the country’s multilingual and relatively well-educated popula­tion. Many in the tech industry did start using Tunisia but not for development. Rather, Tunisia became the low-cost, low-value as­sembler for European companies. There was little “value added”, although value-added jobs were what the country needed to pro­vide for the tens of thousands of unemployed college graduates.

“The problem for a Tunisian who has the tech knowledge, who per­haps studied abroad and returns to Tunisia to be a contributor is they find that funding sources for tech start-ups are nearly non-existent,” notes Ahmed Fessi, a Tunisian executive who is based in France but frequently returns to Tunisia and to Algeria for projects.

Unless someone has family money, there are essentially no funding sources for the creation of new products in Tunisia.

“Tunisian banks and venture capitalists still do not understand the tech world. Here in Tunisia, banks do not understand funding a concept. Give them a box with content, note what it is on the invoice and who it is being shipped to and what the person will pay… this they understand how to fund,” Fessi says.

One sector of Tunisia’s economy that has done well for certain businesses is imports and exports. Trade, however, has always been overdependent on Europe. As the economy in Europe slumped, so did Tunisia’s.

The real reason some of the import/export businesses flour­ished before 2011 was cronyism that allowed for exclusive licences for imports and distribution-retail of goods in the domestic markets, as noted in 2014 by a World Bank study.

Politically sanctioned crony­ism encouraged the emergence of a more nefarious phenomenon: the informal economy, which constitutes more than 50% of all economic activity in the country. Cross-border trafficking in all kinds of goods deprives the state of tax revenues and finances illicit activi­ties. It threatens the formal econo­my and discourages international businesses. For years, Tunisian authorities promised to make nec­essary changes for the economy to grow. Today, the country faces ad­ditional challenges that are making the economic recovery a struggle. But the basics the decision-makers need to tackle are still there.

Tunisia’s political leaders must recognise that decisiveness, rather than continued delays of needed reform, are a benefit of democracy. What the people want more than anything from its new democracy is the economic opportunities that can ensue when both foreign and domestic business thrive.

Jerry Sorkin
Tunis, Tunisia

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Bravo Maistro Barenboim!
We look for many more encores to come!

Image and video hosting by TinyPic         Conductor Daniel Barenboim. Photo credit: dw.com

Bravo Maistro Barenboim!

It has been announced that the famed pianist and conductor, Daniel Barenboim, will be bringing the Berlin State Orchestra to Iran.

Bringing a symphony orchestra on a cultural visit to Iran, a country that since their 1979 revolution prohibited the public performance of Western orchestral music until only recently, is a welcome sign of change and the type of cultural exchange that should be encouraged! The fact that the Iranian government has allowed such music to again be performed and has also welcomed Conductor Daniel Barenboim’s offer to perform in Iran should only result in applause.

Wherever one may stand on the recent “5 plus 1” negotiations and the recent diplomatic talks after more than three decades of near silence between Iran and the West; a growing number of American tourists visiting Iran, as well as other types of academic and cultural exchanges taking place between Iran and the United States and other Western countries…all such forms of exchange should be encouraged. After decades of walls of silence, augmented with threats and intimidation, it is only through such Citizen Diplomacy that real progress can take place and hopefully, a change of behavior by and between Iran, the United States and the West.

I had the honor of meeting with Daniel Barenboim in Philadelphia to discuss music as a bridge between opposing sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and applaud his attempts to embark on similar efforts with Iran.

Bravo Maistro Barenboim! We look for many more encores to come!

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Jerry Sorkin
Tunis, Tunisia

Follow me on Twitter   @JerrySorkin



Diplomacy helped bring about an historic agreement between Iran, the United States and the additional four countries involved…

While not everyone can agree that the agreement reached in Vienna is foolproof and understandably, concerns remain, the fact that after more than three decades there were fruitful talks is in itself, a big step forward. Hopefully, further progress and warming of relations can continue.
We invite you to join us as we continue the Citizens Diplomacy that we have been conducting in Iran since 2009.
Join us in Iran!!!
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Jerry Sorkin
Founder and President

Four years on, tourism would be the real spring for Tunisia

A recent photograph in Tunisia’s French daily, La Presse, looked all too familiar. The new tourism minister, Salma Elloumi Rekik, sat next to the head of the Tunisia Hotel Federation, just as every new tourism minister has done after taking charge. This has been, on average, once a year. That’s how often tourism ministers have changed since the January 2011 revolution. The one constant is that none of them has had a background in tourism, so they rarely do more than make promises.

But tourism should be the engine of Tunisia’s economic recovery. The country has a long history of being a favoured southern Mediterranean destination. Five years ago, it attracted 6.7 million visitors.

Tourism accounts for roughly 7 per cent of gross national product and directly or indirectly employs nearly 500,000 Tunisians. Though the industry is heavily dependent on the “sun and sea” model, Tunisia is well positioned to promote its other attributes: its wealth of Roman sites, the southern desert and the beautiful mountains in the north.

Unlike the lofty plans to attract foreign investment in the renewable energy, high-tech agriculture and textile manufacturing sectors, tourism is a viable industry with the potential for quick growth. Tourism infrastructure and personnel already exist. Although everything is woefully out of date, quick fixes are possible, many of them at minimal cost. These changes could go a long way towards overcoming the considerable loss of visitors as a result of the chaos after the revolution.

The strongest markets historically – France, Italy, Spain and Germany – have declined, their tourists migrating to alternative Mediterranean destinations. More than 25 per cent of Tunisia’s hotels are either barely making it financially or hold the sort of non-performing loans that have greatly affected the Tunisian economy. Visitors from Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and other former eastern bloc countries still come but they spend less than the French and Germans and much of their money goes directly to European tour operators, who then dictate what they will pay for the rooms.

Some proposals being discussed to turn around the sector include an alternative tourism model of boutique hotels; B&-type properties and reaching out to more lucrative markets such as Japan, China and the United States.

These ideas are not as daring as they might sound. Before the revolution, Japan was already a lucrative market that sent small groups of tourists to Tunisia during its low and mid seasons. The groups travelled around the country, as opposed to staying at coastal sun-and-sea hotels, which hit peak occupancy between May and September. Several tour operators are actively exploring these possibilities. Atlantis Voyages, one of the country’s largest, has been busily showing the Japanese that Tunisia is safe again by means of an all-expenses-paid tour for top Japanese travel agents.

The agents had the chance to meet the minister of tourism, but this was essentially one private company’s attempt to sell Tunisia without government support.

Everyone agrees that the government must do more to raise the country’s overall profile. Tunisia has basked in the world’s approval for having taken the first steps in the transition to democracy, but potential tourists need more incentive than that if they are to come.

Tourism will move forward by returning to some aspects of the past. Before the revolution, for instance, visitors from neighbouring countries would note how clean Tunisia was. But all that went downhill when confusion reigned after the uprising. Now it’s time for rules to be enforced once again – not least the no-smoking signs at airports and in public spaces.

Perhaps the greatest growth spurt would come from finally implementing an open skies policy. Tunisia’s national airline and its union have long prevented this but neighbouring countries, including Morocco, Malta, Greece and Turkey, went through the same domestic battle about the wisdom of subjecting a weak national carrier to international competition in the interests of bringing in more tourists.

It is now up to Tunisia’s elected government to lead the charge that will revitalise tourism as a step towards fixing the ailing economy.

Jerry Sorkin is a tourism expert, emeritus president of the American Tunisian Association and lives part of the year in Tunis

On Twitter: @tunis_usa

Link of the article: http://www.thenational.ae/opinion/comment/four-years-on-tourism-would-be-the-real-spring-for-tunisia

Tunisia’s election was not about religion…except for those who wanted to make religion an issue…

Tunisians voted for what mattered to them!

With all the Social Media and frequency of Blogs  I have sent out over the years, my most recent October 27th Blog about Tunisia’s election results received nearly as much attention as any I have ever done. The response to the Blog was overwhelmingly positive and appreciative of the analyses of the elections.

However, there were a few queries as to why I chose to use a photo of a Tunisian woman who clearly is observant by the fact that she was wearing a tight head scarf. The queries, some of which were explicit,  asked why I showed a religious woman who probably, by her way of dress, is presumed to be a supporter of Tunisia’s Ennahda party, the Islamic party.

2014 10 26 09 41 15 Election Day Oct 26th 2014

Such queries show the inherent bias that many of us have, not only relating to Tunisia, but our response to seeing someone whose way of dress displays their religiosity…in this case, Islam.

A bit of full disclosure…the woman in the photo, Wasilla, is a friend. I happened to see her Sunday morning after she just returned from voting in Tunisia’s elections and she proudly held up her ink stained finger to show she voted. So, my response to taking her photo was simply a response to being there at this moment, of which she was so proud…proud to say that as a Tunisian, she had the opportunity to vote in a free election!  But, the photo and the fact that Wasilla is a “covered woman” left many to read in what they wanted.

As for myself, I like to think I am “color blind”. Having lived in Tunisia for years and having traveled widely over these last thirty some odd years, I have developed close friendships throughout the world, crossing religions, cultures, ethnic groups and languages. I try as much as possible to see people for who they are and not pre-judge them by their religion, language or ethnic background. I have tried to instill this same belief to my son, as well and believe that I have succeeded, seeing that he has friends who cross the specturm of color and ethnic lines. However, I assume it is only natural that as hard as we try, we all carry some inner biases.

The interesting backdrop to the photo of Wasilla, unintended at the time I took the photo and the election results in Tunisia, is that after taking the photos, Wasilla told me she did NOT vote for Ennahda, the Islamic party. Rather, she proudly stated that she voted for Beji Caid Essebsi’s party, Nida Tounes, an avowedly secular party that is an umbrella party representing many of Tunisia’s secular democratic centrists parties. Nida Tounes was the decidedly clear, victor in Tunisia’s elections.

When I asked Wasilla what prompted her to vote for Nida Tounes, she explained that she is observant and lives her life by her religious convictions. But during the years of Ennahda’s political rule, she has seen Tunisia’s economy crumble, the country’s image decline in the eyes of the world and frankly, has not seen benefits for Tunisia.

Wasilla comes from a small town near Ain Draham in the northwest mountains of Tunisia, near the Algerian border. Little has changed in this region over the years, including the fact that governments, past and including Ennahda’s years in power, continue to neglect the region. While Wasilla has managed on her own gumption over the years to come to Tunis, work hard, attend school and earn a Master’s Degree in financial management, she is one of the fortunate ones. She now works as the controller for an NGO in one of Tunisia’s economically challenged areas, an NGO that has projects in more than a dozen areas of Tunisia. Working for the NGO, TAAMS, ( taamstn.org), Wasilla has also had the benefit of advanced training, having been sent to both Amman and Beirut in the past year for continuing education.

So, while Wasilla has worked hard and represents those Tunisians who are determined to do their best and not sit back and wait for a government or a political party to give them something, she notes that “Islam” has nothing to do with how she view politics. How she chooses to practice her religion is a private matter.

Returning to her village regularly, Wasilla is constantly reminded that even during the recent years of Ennahda, the promises have been empty. When she visits her family and the rains come to the region or as one of Tunisia’s few areas where snow falls, seeing the residents disabled and roads turned into mud, clearly Ennahda did not bring promised improvement to the area.

So in the end, Wasilla not only voted for change, but encouraged her family and friends to do the same. Religion was never part of what brought the spontaneity of Tunisia’s Revolution in January 2011. The only reason religion became a political issue is that there are people who wanted to make it an issue.

For Westerners and Tunisians alike, one can look at Tunisia’s elections this past Sunday as yet one more positive step in Tunisia’s singular identity. A country and people that by and large, is truly nationalistic, putting their “Tunisianness” first…over religion, over being Arab and voting for what they feel is best for Tunisia.
Tunisian and American flags together

For the many Wasillas who remain observant and whose dress may prompt stereotypes and generalizations, it was their reason for choosing who they voted for that represents Tunisia’s success in putting democratization in practice. All this progress in democratization in less than four years since the country’s newfound independence. And for those among us who might see people dressed in a way that suggests their religious inclination, Tunisians clearly showed the world that having a political party trying to dictate through religion is not what they favor.

It is with great pride that I write from Tunisia and share the excitement and sense of accomplishment that many Tunisians are now feeling about their country.

Signature Jerry Sorkin formal
Jerry Sorkin

Jerry in sidi bou Said July 2014 IMG 4932


     Jerry Sorkin has been involved in marketing and business development for decades, in Tunisia, as well as other MENA region countries, with an emphasis on cultural tourism, residing most of the year in Tunisia. He is Founder and President of TunisUSA and Iconic Journeys Worldwide.
www.TunisUSA.com  www.IconicJourneysWorldwide.com

     He was among the authors of the 2012 World Bank study on restructuring Tunisia’s tourism economy and serves as the Tourism Consultant on a European Union project in Tunisia on Cultural Tourism. He also has been awarded “Top Specialist” for Tunisia by Conde Nast Traveler magazine for five years in a row and was the initiator and organizer behind-the- scenes of the magazine’s January 2014 article “Tunisia’s Time”.https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B-nohG5K079xTXJRWmRRbXE2VHc/edit.

      Jerry Sorkin is an Emeritus President of the Washington, DC based American Tunisian Association, though his opinions in this writing are those of his own.

Tunisia’s Election Results of October 26th! What are Tunisians saying about their direction of democracy?

Tunisians have shown once again, they are unique in the Arab world, a fact that they seem to be constantly having to defend. Get a room of Tunisians together and ask them to rank the number one way they would identify themselves; the choices being Arab, being Muslim, or being Tunisian. A gambler would be very wise to bet on the later!  Tunisians have always been alone in their identity within the Arab world, an identity that has been continually reinforced since they achieved their independence from France in 1956. While they are a country that is over 99% Muslim, Arab being the first language and thus, part of the Arab world, their identity has to do more with what makes them different from the rest of the Arab world, than how they are “Arab”.

téléchargement de photos

When the Tunisian Revolution of January 2011 overthrew Tunisia’s longtime autocratic former president, Zine Abeddine Ben Ali, Tunisians did so as part of a leaderless revolution. There was no grand scheme mounted by an organized “fifth column”, nor was the revolution something any political pundit speaking honestly could have predicted. Rather, Tunisia’s revolution was a spontaneous response to economic challenges facing the country and the much too overt signs of corruption coming from the family of Ben Ali and the Trabelsi clan of his wife. The spark was finally lit when Mohammed Bouazizi, the frustrated produce vendor from the dusty, economically depressed town of Sidi Bou Zid in central Tunisia, burned himself alive…the scenario which has been reported many times previously.


While the media, many academic think tanks and others are always trying to relate the Tunisia experience to the remainder of the so-called “Arab Spring” countries, Tunisia was not trying to inspire a broader revolutionary movement within the region.The first post-revolution elections in October 2011 brought a plurality to Ennahda, a Tunisian branch of Egypt’s Islamic Brotherhood. They and their followers like to refer to themselves as the “moderate Islamic party”. Under the leadership of Rachid Ghannouchi, Ennahda built a formidable organizational structure that has ample financial backing to constantly hold conferences in the US, Tunisia and Europe delivering their message…the concept that Islam and Democracy will together, lead Tunisia’s future. This all sounded palatable and certainly earned a following from the western academics who were only to delighted to be continually invited to speak at the conferences and reciprocate by hosting Ennahda leaders.


During these two plus years of Ennahda’s plurality where they selected the plum ministries; the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ennahda’s collaboration extended to “The Troika”, a partnership that brought in two smaller, secular parties to round out the “Troika” coalition. The CPR (Congress for the Republic), headed by human rights activist, physician and politician, Moncef Marzouki, who was subsequently appointed “interim President” of Tunisia and the party Ettatakol (Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties), headed by Ettakatol’s Secretary General, placing Dr. Mustapha Ben Jafar, in the role of President of the Constituent Assembly. This collaboration as part of “The Troika”  provided even greater credibility to this claim of being a moderate Islamic party that understands the need for political collaboration, while further consolidating their political strength, through The Troika. Despite the rather insignificant role of Ettakatol and CPR as political parties, CPR’s position of having the Presidency and Ettakatol’s of having the privilege of Mustapha Ben Jafar being President of the Constitutional Assembly, all contributed to garnering further political influence. While the mandate of the Constitutional Assembly was meant to be a one year mandate to complete the Constitution. delay in completing the Constitution seem to never focus on its mandate, often being sidetracked by amendments put forth by Ennahda members of the Assembly, amendments that would serve few Tunisians’ national interests, but would represent Ennahda’s interest. In addition to the important ministries held by Ennahda, Ettakatol meanwhile, placed woefully inadequate leadership in the positions of Minister of Finance and Minister of Tourism, two areas that were most important to help Tunisia’s economy get back on track. Ennahada also put allies with questionable credentials in key positions which they used to exact revenge on political nemeses, instead of improving the lots for the poor and unemployed.  In addition to the above noted ministries, Ennadha held the Prime Minister’s office. During all this time, Tunisia and Tunisians, only saw problems worsen.


The continued delay of completing the Constitution led to political paralyses and distrust. An example of the type of amendments put forth by Ennahda supporters within the Assembly was a 2012 push to have as part of the Constitution the fact that women would be “complementary to men”. Through much of the Arab and Islamic world, this may have seen rather progressive. However, in Tunisia, where the 1956 Personal Status Code that became law under Tunisia’s new independence led by President Habib Bourguiba, the Personal Status Code stated that women and men were equal under the eyes of the law. This move by Ennahda to modify this was met with tremendous uproar leading to August 2012 demonstrations throughout the country, with women and men joined together, effectively killing this proposed amendment. However, as with other amendments, these took up considerable debate time and only underscored the delay in completing the Constitution, with an amendment that would have served few Tunisians’ interests other than Ennahda supporters.


The frustration within the Constituent Assembly by the opposition caused by the constant delays and failure to focus on finalizing the Constitution, finally lead to a political brick wall in August of 2013. The opposition parties to Ennahda called for a boycott of the Assembly. Through the helpful initiatives of the UGTT, the strong party of the labor unions, meetings were held that brought together Beji Caid Essebsi and Rachid Ghannouchi in Paris. This is akin to bringing together the heads of the Republican and Democratic parties of the United States Congress for a sit down in the hopes of accommodation. Fortunately, both Essebsi and Ghannouchi showed leadership qualities and pragmatism that has exceeded that of which is seen in Washington. Over a period of weeks, with tough compromises acknowledged by both sides, along with the continued prompting of the UGTT, an agreement was reached by which a provisional government would be appointed to begin in 2014, under the direction of a provisional prime minister approved by both major parties. The primary mandate of this provisional government was to complete the long delayed Constitution so that Tunisia could hold elections by the end of 2014, elections defined by the new Constitution for a five year period, defining the system and roles of being a parliamentary and/or presidential system. This agreement also required Ennahda to leave their leadership posts and allow the new, provisional prime minister to select his own cabinet.


A relatively unknown Tunisian engineer who had been living in France working in the corporate role was the agreed candidate to become the provisional Prime Minister. Mehdi Jomaa seem to have ties to neither party and understood clearly his mandate to achieve by the end of 2014. This past year under Jomaa has seen considerable improvement, leading to the completion at the end of January 2014 of an historic Constitution agreed to by all but eight members of Tunisia’s Constitutional Assembly. The recording of the vote on national television brought again the feeling of a country who put their Tunisian identity above all else…a moment when once again, Tunisians from all walks of life could feel proud to be Tunisian!


Throughout these years since the January 2011 Revolution and under Ennahda’s years of leadership, Tunisia and Tunisians continued to see their country regress in most every arena;  foreign investment all but disappeared, security lapses that were somewhat constant were continually leading back to a lack of vigorous enforcement of security concerns by Ennahda. To anyone living in the neglected regions of Tunisia away from the coast that pinned their hopes in October 2011 on Ennahda’s promises of jobs and investment in improving economic opportunities, results were hard to find.  Unemployment, joblessness and the lack of financial investment by Tunisian authorities, or a return of foreign investment, has yet to happen. The lack of the strong security that Tunisians were used to during the Ben Ali days freightened away tourists. Despite attempts by the Ministry of Tourism trying to play with statistics showing tourism rebounding, some 400,000 to 500,000 people linked to the tourism industry have not seen a tourism return that makes their financial security any more assured.


Despite a very organized electoral campaign by Ennahda for the October 2014 elections, the initial results indicate that Tunisians want their democracy, but they want economic improvement and security, two areas that Ennahda has yet to deliver in a convincing way.

While the final hard numbers of the election results may still be one or two days away, the general trend can be determined by the votes that have already been received, which count for a significant amount of the polling regions. Albeit some possible irregularities in some of the foreign voting locations in Europe, both Tunisian observers and international observers give high marks to the October 26th election in terms of transparency. Results thus far suggest Ennadha to have achieved in the area of 26% of the votes, in a nationwide turnout that suggests some nearly 60% of voter registration. The broader secular opposition umbrella party of Nida Tounes, led by a former prime minister and Bourguiba era politician, Beji Caid Essebsi, shows results of nearly 37%. Already a rather wide disparity. But the message of Tunisian’s voting pattern takes this message even further when one looks at some of the parties that follow in the voting after Nida Tounes and Ennahdha’s roughly 26%. The Free Patriotic Union garnered 7.83% , the Popular Front 5.52%  and Afek Tounes 4.14%. Thus, an additional percentage of some 18% of proportional votes going to parties that are avowedly secular, like that of Nida Tounes, thus furthering the split between Nida Tounes and Ennahda.


In summary, while final statistics may result in slight changes of specifics, there was a clear message in a country that is over 99% Muslim…that democracy can work in a Muslim country. However, for Tunisians, who have always practiced their religion privately without oversight, this does not mean having democracy in a Muslim country must be guided by having an Islamic based party to tell them how to be Muslims or to define how democracy should be in a democratic Tunisia. Tunisians can revel in the fact that they have shown that they have the ability to continue their progress towards democratization, a process that has been less than four years, remaining relatively peaceful and one that now defines a direction that has always made Tunisia distinctive…the ability to defend their way of life!


The October 2014 elections may not bring immediate resolve to Tunisia’s many problems, but it points the direction that the overwhelming population wants…a country that is democratic, secure and economically strengthened, without a government that tells them this must be dictated by religion. The October 26th Elections highlights this achievement and helps define why Tunisia and Tunisians are a proud people who today…can hold their heads up high!




     Jerry Sorkin has been involved in marketing and business development for decades, in Tunisia, as well as other MENA region countries, with an emphasis on cultural tourism, residing most of the year in Tunisia. He is Founder and President of TunisUSA and Iconic Journeys Worldwide.

www.TunisUSA.com  www.IconicJourneysWorldwide.com

     He was among the authors of the 2012 World Bank study on restructuring Tunisia’s tourism economy and serves as the Tourism Consultant on a European Union project in Tunisia on Cultural Tourism. He also has been awarded “Top Specialist” for Tunisia by Conde Nast Traveler magazine for five years in a row and was the initiator and organizer behind-the- scenes of the magazine’s January 2014 article “Tunisia’s Time”.https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B-nohG5K079xTXJRWmRRbXE2VHc/edit.

      Jerry Sorkin is an Emeritus President of the Washington, DC based American Tunisian Association, though his opinions in this writing are those of his own.

La Tunisie…Ne rates pas l’opportunité!!!

Je viens de rentrer d’un séjour de 10 nuits en Iran. Depuis 2009, TunisUSA conduit des programmes de tourisme culturel qui ramène des américains en Iran. Le développement du tourisme culturel en Iran fait face à de nombreux obstacles de taille : la réputation négative que l’Iran auprès de la plupart des américains ; le fait que les Etats Unis et l’Iran n’entretiennent pas de relations diplomatiques et donc, l’inexistence d’ambassades dans chaque pays ; les sanctions économiques imposés par les USA à l’encontre de l’Iran interdisent les transferts monétaires, y compris les simples retirements d’argent ou l’utilisation des cartes de crédit américaines. De surcroît, le ministère de tourisme iranien fait peu d’efforts pour promouvoir le tourisme, même pas celui ciblant le marché européen qui émet le plus de touristes vers la République Islamique.

Pourtant, en dépit de toutes ces restrictions, les nombre des américains qui voyagent vers l’Iran ne cesse d’accroître. Ils y vont pour explorer les richesses historiques et culturels de ce pays.

Tout au long de mon séjour en Iran, j’ai pas pu m’empêcher de comparer la croissance du nombre des touristes émanant du marché américain en Iran avec celui de la Tunisie, un pays tout aussi riche en culture et en histoire, et qui de plus entretient des relations plus que cordiales avec les Etats Unis.

TunisUSA a déjà reçu des réservations pour nos tours en Iran en octobre en décembre 2014 et en avril 2015. Le Metropolitan Museum of Art à New York a un voyage programmé en novembre 2014 à un prix de $10.000 US à base d’occupation double, plus $1.075 en supplément single. Le billet d’avion et les frais de visa ne sont pas pris en charge ! L’université de Stanford en Californie a organisé un voyage, guichets fermés, pour ses anciens étudiants en mars 2013. Le prix ? $8.400 par personne en occupation double, avec 1.370$ pour le supplément single. Le billet et le visa n’étaient également pas pris en charge !

Quels renseignements peut-on tirer alors concernant les opportunités pour la Tunisie vis-à-vis le marché américain ? La réponse est quelque chose que nous à TunisUSA avions connu depuis un certain temps. Si la Tunisie pourrait consacrer une partie de leur budget marketing ET reconnaîtrait l’opportunité d’atteindre le marché des voyageurs les plus riches et sophistiqués dans le monde, la Tunisie pourrait bénéficier d’une croissance comme celle de l’Iran, une croissance que, rappelons-le, vient malgré les obstacles susmentionnés. Et que dire de cette excuse usée que les responsables du tourisme en Tunisie ont utilisé pendant de nombreuses années, «pas de vol direct»? Les responsables du tourisme tunisien feraient bien de noter que malgré tout l’argent que les américains dépensent déjà pour aller en Iran comme on l’a mentionné,  il n’existe pas de vol direct entre les états unis et l’Iran.

Après maints efforts et du lobbying intense, « l’AVERTISSEMENT » exigé par les USA sur la destination Tunisie a été enlevé ! Ceci est une opportunité en or pour le pays pour aller de l’avant et cibler le marché américain. TunisUSA a été la seule entreprise américaine qui a n’a pas cessé d’investir en et de promouvoir la Tunisie aux Etats-Unis depuis la Révolution. Bien que, en tant que fondateur et président de TunisUSA, j’ai personnellement une passion pour la Tunisie, j’ai choisi de poursuivre nos efforts de promouvoir la Tunisie car il y a un ROI … retour sur investissement!


Jerry Sorkin est impliqué pleinement dans le marketing et développement des affaires depuis des décennies, en Tunisie, ainsi que d’autres pays de la région MENA, en mettant l’accent sur le tourisme culturel. Résidant la plupart de l’année en Tunisie, il est le fondateur et président deTunisUSA et Iconic Journeys Worldwide.

www.TunisUSA.com  www.IconicJourneysWorldwide.com

Il était parmi les auteurs de l’étude de la Banque Mondiale sur la restructuration de l’économie touristique de la Tunisie 2012 et sert comme consultant en tourisme sur un projet de l’Union Européenne en Tunisie sur le tourisme culturel.
Il est aussi un Emeritus President de l’American Tunisian Associaton (ATA) (www.americantunisianassociation.com). Les opinions exprimées dans cet article sont les siennes et ne sont pas censés représenter l’ATA.

Tunisia can make it !

Protestors in Tunisia, January 2011 (Reuters)
Protestors in Tunisia, January 2011 (Reuters)

Far too often journalists have parachuted into Tunisia after an incident and reported that the country was in “turmoil”, or worse! For those of us who have been in Tunisia since before and after the Revolution, they would know that this is hardly a reflection of daily life here. Yes, there has been a lot of political wrangling, disagreements and certainly, considerable political incompetence. The economy has shown little to no signs of improvement and the ruling party since the October 2011 elections has barely an accomplishment to show. They are also more than a year overdue in their initial charge of writing the Constitution.

Despite these political hills and valleys,  two well publicized incidents of political assassinations and frequent labor demonstrations, daily life continues with relative normality for the majority of Tunisians; theaters and cafes are open, concerts take place, schools are open, shopping malls are packed and tourists continue to come. Parachuting journalists have often left the impression in the media that Tunisia is another Egypt or worse, Syria, Libya or Iraq. As anyone who truly knows Tunisia, this is far from the reality on the ground and a sad commentary on media that looks for the quick story, rather than the digging into the reality.

The last several weeks have seen Tunisian diplomacy that can perhaps set a barometer for the United States’s Congress’s Republicans and Democrats. Tunisian political adversaries have made concessions, often times politically painful ones. The latest agreement results in choosing a new Prime Minister who is more of a technocrat than a politician and who has been given the task of steering the country through the next stage, leading to the completion of the long overdue Constitution and calling for new elections. While the results of this next stage are too soon to be judged and the real test of seeing that the political party that offered to step down does as it promises, the process has been free of violence and has not brought interruption to the daily lives of Tunisians.

For a country that is a nascent democracy, barely three years old and never having had the history of a free and transparent political life, this relatively peaceful process is the real story underway in Tunisia. It is these hopeful signs that allow all of us here in Tunisia, Tunisian born and otherwise, to feel that if any Arab country can truly achieve democracy, it is Tunisia that signals the best hope!

Jerry Sorkin
Founder and President

PS: Carlota Gall of the New York Time’s captured the Tunisian scene well in this recent article:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/17/world/africa/a-political-deal-in-a-deeply-divided-tunisia-as-islamists-agree-to-yield-power.html?emc=edit_tnt_20131216&tntemail0=y&_r=0


On the interim agreement between Iran and US…

The agreement recently signed in Geneva by the US and Iran is a good step forward. indeed. It is understandable that there are skeptics, not the least of whom include Saudia Arabia, Israel, some members of the US Congress and no doubt, other Americans. However, after thirty-four years of mutual antagonism, suspicion and very little civil communication, this agreement can serve as an important first step in what could be an even more important transition in relations that go well beyond US and Iran.

Thirty-four years of little to no dialogue, antagonistic action between the two countries in various forms and a lack of trust can only be improved by having direct negotiations. The actors have changed and minds and actions can change, as well. There are endless means of establishing safeguards to protect respective interests, but without opening channels of direct communication, one can be assured that there will never be improvement. Finding examples in modern history where political tempers have been lowered and relations restored in the absence of direct communication would be nearly impossible, if not impossible, to cite.

We hope that Secretary of State Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif can continue their progress on improving the relations between the US and Iran and hopefully, changing more minds and the destructive desires that can impose risks to all of us.

We will continue our part of trying to bring understanding between people through our cultural travel programs, which have proven to bring people together, time and time again!
We have been participants in voluminous encounters between people who never would have crossed paths and without such interaction, would likely have held steadfast to their animosity and distrust towards the other.





Jerry Sorkin
Founder and President

Using the international sporting arena to impose political views is contradictory to the spirit of international sports and its goal of being a bridge among cultures.

Using the international sporting arena to impose political views is contradictory to the spirit of international sports and its goal of being a bridge among cultures.

When will countries see that politicizing sporting events not only negatively impacts the image of the event, but impacts the athletes’ long years of training, their opportunities for advancement and the opportunities to present their country in a positive, high profile manner?

The latest country to impose orders on one of their athletes is Tunisia. As the article linked below from ESPN, Tunisia’s Tennis Federation and their Ministry of Youth and Sports ordered Malek Jaziri, ranked 169th in the word in tennis, not to compete again Israeli tennis competitor Amir Weintraub this past Friday in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. There are numerous losers in this match!!!

(Tunisia orders withdrawal vs. Israeli

http://espn.go.com/tennis/story/_/id/9808676/tunisia-orders-player-withdrawal-vs-israeli#comments  )

Tunisia’s tennis champion Malek Jaziri’s competitive career may be adversely affected by not competing in the match which could have helped advance his career and the positive image he has earned thus far for Tunisia.

In January 2011, following the flight of Tunisia’s longtime dictator, Ziabeddine Ben Ali as a result of the initiatives of the country’s youth to achieve freedom, initiatives which inspired democratization drives to other…Tunisia’s image rose to a positive height in the world. This positive image was brief, soon to be eclipsed by Egypt’s struggles and then the subsequent conflicts in other countries’ struggles, from Libya, Syria, Bahrain and elsewhere.

Since January 2011, Tunisia’s economy has been battered. The image of political instability devastated the country’s tourism industry, which provides for nearly 800,000 jobs and some 7% of the country’s GNP. Subsequent incidents which received negative press have continued to make tourism recovery difficult.

Foreign investment in Tunisia’s economy that would yield job creation has all but dried up or departed Tunisia, a result of the political image seen by potential investors of an Islamic led government that has achieved nothing to suggest political stability or a positive environment for foreign, financial investment.

Who within the tennis federation or within the Ministry of Youth and Sports felt that barring Jaziri would serve a useful purpose? At a time when Tunisia must enhance its image, it has by its short-sighted action, again brought diminishment to the country’s image.

Tunisia needs all the positive image it can yield if it wants to aid the country’s economic recovery. Actions such as this ban imposed on Jaziri are not only undiplomatic and short-sighted, but will only serve to benefit those who seem to cling to outdated political tactics.

To paraphrase a now deceased international diplomat, “Tunisia seems to never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity!”