I had the pleasure of attending the Global Citizen Forum this past weekend in the United Kingdom, attended by approximately forty delegates from various countries. Participants were from Zimbabwe, Malawi, Uganda, Saudia Arabia, Tunisia, Palestine, Australia, Pakistan, Botswana, the UK, the United States, Argentina, Mexico and more. It was two and half days of dialogue and discussions on being a Global Citizen. While differences were expressed among the delegates on the definition of “Global Citizens”, the underlying common denominator among all delegates was the desire and belief of each of us that we have a responsibility to look beyond our own needs and find a way to utilize our individual talents to make the world a more connected and peaceful world.

Among the delegates and also one of the keynote speakers was former American Ambassador John K. Menzies, who served as US Ambassador to Bosnia from 1994-1996, a deathly and gruesome period in world history. Ambassador Menzies also participated in the Dayton Peace Talks and oversaw U.S. post-war assistance in Bosnia. Truly a task for the ultimate diplomat…which he is!

In his keynote address to our group, he reminded us of the old adage that one does not make peace with friends, but with one’s enemies.

I had the opportunity to have some discussions with Ambassador Menzies during the days of the forum. As one who has always believed that cultural engagement was an integral tool in overcoming stereotypes and even more so, in overcoming adversity among perceived enemies, I wanted to know what he would like to see taking place, vis-à-vis, the thundering talk circulating about a possible attack on Iran, and US – Iranian relations. His answer did not surprise me!  He said he felt we (the U.S.) should be continually trying to dialogue and communicate on every level, from constant diplomatic exchanges, both openly and back channel, as well as encouraging cultural exchanges on every level.

Certainly, in organizing both adult and student groups through our programs in Tunisia, Iran, the Middle East and elsewhere, one can see the positive results that can come from these exchanges. Ambassador Menzies noted that while both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton initiated such attempts early in their Administration, he was disappointed that they had allowed the lack of enthusiastic response from Iran at the time,to discourage them from continuing active efforts.

I very much share these viewpoints and have yet to find any negative results result from cultural exchanges and dialogue. The level of progress is not always predictable, but who would have ever thought that ping-pong could bring years of Chinese isolation to renew relations with the United States and much of the world?

Citizen diplomacy takes many forms and cultural travel and educational exchanges are certainly an important path. We will continue our efforts in the most creative forums.

We welcome your input!!!


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You can follow Villanova University’s program in Tunisia…virtually!

Follow us on Twitter: @Tunis_USA #TunisUSA

Villanova University from Villanova, Pennsylvania (a suburb of Philadelphia) is currently in Tunisia as part of a program through their Center for Arab and Islamic Studies. The program was designed and coordinated by Villanova Professor Marwan Kreidie and Lowell Gustafson,  Professor of Political Science and Associate Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences in conjunction with TunisUSA’s academic programming specialist.

This March 5th lecture was by Ahmed Hamza, of Kairouan, a 24 year old entrepreneur and Social Media specialist who played an active role in the early days of the Tunisian Revolution, both as one who was actively using the Social Media tools of tweeting and blogging, as well as being one of the founders of an NGO (non-governmental organization) that was helping to provide housing, medical needs and assistance to the thousands of refugees who came to Libya in February 2011, while Tunisia was still dealing with their own domestic changes resulting from the Revolution.

As part of this 3 credit course, students are meeting with people who have been involved with Tunisia’s Revolution and the democratization process taking place. Leading the program is Hatem Bourial, one of Tunisia’s noted writers and a specialist in culture, history, and the political scene.

More pictures are available on our Facebook page !

Waiting for your comments..

“Winning the Arab Spring”

The term the media developed as, “The Arab Spring” started with the sudden and unexpected flight of Tunisia’s President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to Saudia Arabia. The media was all over Tunisia, a country that previously, rarely made the news. But following the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi and the flight of Ben Ali, Tunisia was suddenly front page news. Within ten days of Ben Ali’s departure, the media left nearly en masse for Egypt where mass government protests started on January 25th culminating with Mubarak’s stepping down from office on February 11th.

The “Arab Spring” continued to subsequent developments in other Arab countries where pro-democracy movements inspired by events in Tunisia, began their protests against their respective governments’ autocratic ways; Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, as well as far more modest protests in Saudia Arabia, Morocco and Algeria. All of these political uprising shared one thing in common, having been inspired by Tunisia, the country perhaps least known to Americans among these so-called, “Arab Spring” countries.

Of all of these countries, the only one to have achieved a democratic system resulting from their protests is Tunisia. Egypt has the trappings of change, but the reality is that the army is in control, with much of its leadership tied to the former Mubarak regime. The recent arrests of the Western NGO’s who have been in Egypt to help with the democratization and now being prevented from assisting in the transition to democracy, certainly does not bode well for Egypt’s democratization. The stories are well known of Libya and Syria, as the media covers the ongoing stories where daily battles have included shelling, bombing and thousands of deaths. Egypt remains a continued media story as the protests continue in Tahrir Square and more and more arrests seem to take place preventing a democratic process from really taking hold.

In the interim, there seems to not be a day that goes by where I run in to someone or speak on the phone with someone who knows my involvement with Tunisia. This usually leads to comments suggesting that in their mind, Tunisia is probably going through the same chaos as all the other countries of the “Arab Spring”.

That’s unfortunate, as Tunisia is the success story!  Not everything is perfect, to be sure…  However, it is quite amazing to think that after decades of autocratic rule, where prior elections were a charade, little Tunisia went from January 2011’s surprise changes to a ten month transition that included: developing electoral systems, citizens learning about political campaigns and forming political parties, all leading to the October 23rd elections that had Tunisians throughout the country waiting upwards of two to three hours to vote in that country’s first fair, transparent and peaceful elections. In the months since, the process of forming the Constituent Assembly charged with writing a constitution has been taking place. Indeed, discussion and debates have been vigorous, but they take place in an atmosphere of openness that is as open as that of watching C-Span covering the debates in the American Congress. Certainly, not everyone was pleased with the voting outcome, but all Tunisians take pride in the fact that much was accomplished in such a short time and all will admit that the elections were transparent and honest.

The Tunisian economy remains in a precarious state, battered not only by the Revolution, but also due to prior economic activities that were often illegally organized by the former regime and “The Family” around it. Labor strikes continue and their impact on preventing economic growth is clear. But, in a true democracy, strikes and labor unrest are part of the process. One only needs to look at Italy, France and even the US to see where the inspiration for Tunisia’s workers to demonstrate and strike originated. Italy and France are certainly the masters in the art of strikes!

While the US Congress has many members who see no place in the United States for a government administered health plan that ensures medical care to every citizen in the wealthiest country of the industrialized world…Tunisia continues to offer health care to all of its citizens, despite one’s ability to pay.

And as Americans struggle to afford to send their children to colleges and universities due to the highest educational costs in the world, one of Tunisia’s biggest problems, that of unemployment, is a result of that country’s policies of having built too many schools in their attempt to provide free education through university, as a right, for all Tunisians. How ironic?

While Tunisia’s problems since the Revolution began are not behind it, and there are many who are looking forward to the next elections in the hope of seeing different political parties in office, the country continues to move forward peacefully, with the democratic process that Tunisians embarked on, continuing. In many ways, rather than lumping Tunisia in with “The Arab Spring”, a better analogy might be the 1989-1990 fall of the former Soviet Bloc autocratic regimes, who also had a large percentage of well educated youth. In a matter of years, success stories developed about economically successful democracies in what is now, the “free” Eastern Europe.

While Tunisia has fallen to the back pages of the media, it should be held up as a symbol of hope to other emerging democracies and encouragement should be given to all those countries coming forward to help Tunisia in its continued democratic transition…the United States among them.

Hopefully, the West will learn from Tunisia and its people, that the Arab world is not a monolithic bloc and once the West comes to know Tunisia and its  people, it will no longer be a surprise as to why Tunisia not only started the democracy movement of January 2011, but leads in the race for success!