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!”

When is safe…safe enough?

WARNINGS” in the travel industry can have a dramatic impact on bringing down a country’s travel image. As NBC’s longtime Travel Editor, Peter Greenberg notes,  FEAR is a 4 – Letter Word!

Americans in particular, would be shocked to read how many countries that the U.S. State Department has posted “WARNINGS”! (NOTE: In State Department speak, a “WARNING” is more severe than an “ALERT”!)

Conde Nast Traveler’s Wendy Perrin notes, she is receiving many queries from readers asking about whether to travel in Muslim countries, in the event that there is an American strike on Syria.  As she notes…”These are places where, yes, pockets of anti-American/anti-Western sentiment do exist and where there could possibly be some sort of incident over the next few months. Of course, the same is true of certain neighborhoods in London and Paris. And New York City too, for that matter.” How-to-stay-safe-abroad in uncertain times?

Following a recent lecture I gave in the US two weeks ago about the democratization efforts in Tunisia and how Tunisia’s path has been very different from that of countries like Libya, Syria and even Egypt. I noted that despite Tunisia’s political quagmires within their elected Constitutional Assembly and two political assassinations this past year, attacks on foreigners are extremely rare, cafes are full and outdoor concerts have been taking place throughout the summer in Tunisia. A prospective traveler asked would we cancel tour programs to Tunisia if the US attacked Syria?  One might ask, should the constant reports of gangland killings and decapitations in some northern Mexican border towns keep foreigners from visiting the country to the north…the United States???

The U.S. stands alone in maintaining a “WARNING” on Tunisia, so much so that Embassy personnel are under great restrictions as to their own travel freedom within the country. The many American travelers we see in Tunisia, who travel throughout the country, repeatedly tell us that they felt safe throughout their travels and always greeted warmly. Of course, when Embassy personnel are in a locked down mode and maintain a “WARNING” for over a year, it is hard for them to gather a realistic pulse for the feeling of security for the average traveler.  Fortunately for Tunisia, the US “WARNING” stands in contrast to other countries who do maintain travel advisories, but do not discourage their citizens from traveling, as evidenced in these recent reports in travel industry publications. Tunisia Starts to Win Over Tourists and Is Tunisia on the way to attract tourists again?

I have received inquiries from numerous friends within the Arab and Muslim world asking about safety concerns in the US, citing the senseless rampage in downtown Washington, DC this past week that resulted in 12 people being killed, or the multiple attacks with assault weapons that have taken place in American schools, shopping centers and movie theaters in the US over the last year. This past summer, a Tunisian teenager expressed fear about his family’s upcoming trip to the United States, citing the countless news broadcasts from the U.S. involving gun violence.  My response to him was that these are very isolated incidents and the media reports on what creates news…not the normalcy on everyday life!  This advise made much sense to the Tunisian teen, who has no hesitation going out to cafes and visiting his friends late into the night. Fortunately, he joined his family in the US for his first trip ever and had a wonderful time.

Echoing the advise of some of the travel specialists noted above, the best way to approach travel is to make yourself aware of your surroundings, avoid wearing jewelry or ostentatious clothing that may bring unwanted attention and maintain ongoing communication with people who are literally, on the ground in the country your are planning to visit. Then pack your bags and enjoy your travels!

Advise for Tunisia’s Tourism Ministry and Tourism Office…

Advise for Tunisia’s Tourism Ministry and Tourism Office…

Tunisia Tourists’ First Impressions?

Image source: www.nawaat.org

While authorities in the tourism ministry and the ONTT may temporary revel in the fact that Sousse and Hammamet hotels are full, the fall and winter seasons will be upon us soon.
Both before and since the Revolution, Tunisia’s tourism authorities have been talking about “cultural” and “alternative” tourism. For the most part, their lack of action showed these were only empty words. In fact, at a recent World Bank meeting about cultural tourism and a Bizerte conference on new business opportunities, tourism authorities showed up late, read their prepared speeches and left. These events would have been perfect opportunities for them to hear from people who have been investing time and money in alternative tourism projects, away from “sun & sea”… people who are actually putting their “money where their mouth is”.

Earlier this month, Toronto’s Globe & Mail had a cover page story in their travel section about travel to the island of Jerba. That could have been great news for Tunisia’s tourism industry! Unfortunately, the reporter’s first impressions were the same that most tourists see today…”garbage”!

“Alas, my first impressions were not positive…. the roads and fields of olive and date trees were covered in garbage, mostly blue plastic bags.”
Eric Reguly, The Globe & Mail. July 6, 2013

Instead of attending every tourism fair for which that they can get per diem stipends, or give speeches and then ignore the comments and initiatives of people truly trying to be creative in developing new tourism programs for Tunisia, government authorities should start a campaign to clean up Tunisia’s tourism sites. Sorry to say, that “qabla al thawra” (before the Revolution), visitors would often comment on how clean Tunisia was. “Ba’ada al thawra” (after the Revolution), first impressions are made by the great heaps of trash and extensive graffiti.

If people in positions of authority in Tunisia truly want to help Tunisia’s tourism return to Tunisia at levels that go beyond the summer season, the cost of implementing a “CLEAN UP” campaign would be relatively inexpensive . Its implementation should not be that difficult. But I worry even about suggesting this…

At a December 2012 World Bank conference, the-then Minister of Tourism proudly announced that the Ministry “has been studying” improvements in the promotion of the sector and was in the process of implementing parts of a 2016 strategy that would include Tunisia having a tourism website. That was hardly reassuring!

In a country whose Revolution was mobilized by tech-savvy 20-something young people impatient with the former regime’s lack of common sense, the Ministry of Tourism and the ONTT should probably spend less time going to trade fairs and more time trying to listen to professionals who have already been investing time and money in efforts aimed at improving Tunisia’s tourism image. That’s a fact that no one in Tunisia should need to spend too much time studying.

Jerry Sorkin
Founder & President
www.TunisUSA.com

Travel “WARNING”
How realistic are State Department Travel “Warnings”?

Travel Warning
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Tunisia

How realistic are State Department Travel Warnings? Do they create fear?  Are they exaggerated? Are they also a means to avoid possible litigation in the event of a problem?

Let’s look at the case of Tunisia…

On September 11th, 2012, the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya was attacked and there was the tragic loss of life of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other State Department employees. On September 14th, 2012, the U.S. Embassy in Tunis and the American Cooperative School across the street were attacked, doing extensive damage to both facilities. The Tunis attack was by demonstrators who claimed they were protesting the same film that was said to have provoked the demonstrations elsewhere in the Muslim world.
Certainly, there is no justification for the actions that took place in Benghazi and in Tunis and the hope is that those responsible are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and that authorities in both Libya and Tunisia vow never to allow the security lapses that allowed for these attacks to take place.
Following these attacks, the US Embassy in both countries sent home all non-essential American employees (see the Warning for Tunisia on this link)
and issued a “Warning” on September 15th stating:
The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Tunisia at this time. On September 14, 2012 the Department of State ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. government personnel from Tunisia, following the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. The airport in Tunis is open and U.S. citizens are encouraged to depart by commercial air.”

While Americans represent a very small number of the travelers who come to Tunisia, such “WARNING”s resulted in nearly every university and affinity organization with plans on coming to Tunisia to cancel their plans, as well as thousands of other Americans, as well as American cruise ships who had port days scheduled in Tunis. The “WARNING” was subsequently moderated in October 2012 and again in March 2013, yet the “WARNING” (as opposed to an “ALERT”…which represents a lower level of security concern) still remains.
The United States has been very supportive in Tunisia’s drive for democratization since their January 2011 Revolution, but extending such a WARNING has been very costly in terms of Americans coming to Tunisia; spending money here on holidays, learning about Tunisia and more. No other country has a similar warning.
It is long overdue that such a warning be lifted and/or, downgraded to an “alert”. As a tour operator with operations in Tunisia and the only American company that has remained in Tunisia since the Revolution, we have always placed great importance on our clients’ security and are very well positioned to monitor security throughout the country.  We have American clients traveling around Tunisia at this moment and have been having Americans traveling…all of whom have been unanimous in their expressions of feeling secure. Embassies do not provide security as travelers go around a country, rather, this is a role ground operators play…and WE exercise this role with the utmost concern. All of which begs the question…are State Department “Warning”s exaggerated?
We want to share with you some of the activities that have been taking place in Tunisia during these last seven days…all of them in an atmosphere of security and without incident and all representing the real “normalcy” of life in Tunisia.

See if this looks like a dangerous country to you?  These photos are of activities within the last week…

Photos credited to “Les Foules du Megara”
Photos credited to “Les Foules du Megara”

Photos credited to "Les Foules du Megara"

Members of Tunisia’s Jewish community celebrating the holiday of Passover/Pesach

Members of Tunisia’s Jewish community celebrating the holiday of Passover/Pesach

COOKS, where Tunisians enjoy dinners, coffee and socializing, Facebook.com/cooksfood

COOKS, where Tunisians enjoy dinners, coffee and socializing, Facebook.com/cooksfood

 

"Le Plug" in La Marsa

World Social Forum in Tunisia, where more than 7000 people from several nationalities are here to speak about solutions for a better world

At TunisUSA, we always maintain vigilance when it comes to security, maintaining
a close watch on all activities in the countries where we operate. We wish to reassure our
clients that our programs are continuing in Tunisia, as you read this blog post and
we are here on the ground to answer any questions or concerns that you may have!

Helping Tunisia’s tourism rebound…an industry that employs over 500,000 people and represents over 7% of the country’s GNP, is one of the most helpful steps the United States can take at this time in Tunisia’s road to democratization.

Let’s remove the “WARNING” and stop frightening people who might otherwise wish to come to Tunisia!

 

Jerry Sorkin
Founder, TunisUSA
writing from Tunisia!

http://www.cntraveler.com/travel-tips/travel-specialists/jerry-sorkin

 

The Resignation of Tunisia’s Prime Minister Jebali and what it says about democracy in Tunisia…

Photo Source: http://www.metrofrance.com

Two nights ago Tunisians heard their Prime Minister, Hammadi Jebali resign. The following morning, I saw a major English language television channel refer to the resignation as “again” throwing Tunisia into “turmoil”. The visuals showed film footage of a demonstration with tear gas…from a previous time!

Unfortunately, this is yet one more example of the media not understanding the process of democratic transition in Tunisia. Using past film footage in itself, was visually misleading, as are loaded words such as “turmoil” to describe Tunisia’s political happenings.

Tunisians have for the most part seen a rather peaceful political process take place. The February 6th killing of Chokri Belaid, a lawyer and political activist representing secular views from Tunisia’s political left was a shock for all Tunisians! The relatively peaceful transition since the January 2011 Revolution was now marked by an assassination and the use of a gun, two shocking symbols in Tunisia. Tunisia has never seen the violence that has marked Syria, Libya, Lebanon, or even the level of protests that have been seen in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

The killing of Belaid, implicitly, pointed a finger at Ennahda, the Islamic political party that holds a plurality of roughly 41% in Tunisia’s freely elected Constituent Assembly. Why is the finger being pointed at Ennahda?  There was no one other than the Islamic political movement that would have wanted Belaid silenced, as it was against Ennahda that Belaid voiced his opposition. The assumed is that it was Ennahda or their sympathizers who would want him out of the picture.

Hammadi Jebali was appointed Prime Minister by Ennadha, as their plurality based on the democratic and transparent elections of October 23, 2011 permitted them to choose the Prime Minister position. Jabali has been a long time Ennahda member and served more than a decade and half in prison during the dictatorial years of Ben Ali. Today, many in Tunisia have seen Jebali as a puppet to Rachid Ghannouchi, one of the founders and the undisputable leader of Ennahda.

Since Belaid’s death, Jebali felt the stink of the taint that has been cast over Ennahda. Perhaps to deflect himself from this stink, a week ago he called for a government of technocrats, rather than the present political leaders who by all Tunisians’ accounts, have accomplished nothing. The idea of bringing back technocrats met with favor from many Tunisians, except Ennahda’s Ghannouchi and his followers, who said it was unacceptable that technocrats should replace people who were in their positions due to the political will of voters. Jebali said he would work behind the scenes to try and make it a policy change, but if he could not accomplish this, he would resign.

Jebali’s resignation did just that! No one, but Jebali, knows what was really behind his decision to resign. His actions are most likely motivated by one of several possibilities:

1) He is acting to uphold his word, acting as a result of Ennahda’s decision not to consider technocrats.

2) He wants to not carry the taint which now follows the killing of Belaid and thus, as he said in his closing resignation speech…he wants to be the Prime Minister of all Tunisia, not of Ennahda.

3) The theory favored by conspiracy theorists that the entire process since the killing of Belaid, including Jebali’s resignation, is that of a charade being orchestrated by Ennahda.

Most people can see this as an honorable move on his part, even among those who had little high regard for Jebali. The small Constitution now called for President Moncef Marzouki to call on Ennahda to appoint a Prime Minister, as they are the party holding the plurality and thus, entitled to carry the PM post. Their chosen appointee to the Prime Minister post is Ali Laareyedh, a longtime Ennahdha activist and until this appointment, the Minister of Interior. Political watchers would likely say that Laareydeh was the less controversial candidate from Ennahda’s short list, which also included Justice Minister Noureddine Bhiri and Health Minister Abdellatif Mekki. Ennadha also knows that polls show they are no longer the political front runner, but rather, in a dead heat with Nida Tounes, the umbrella organization founded by Bourguiba era, Beji Caid Essebsi in an attempt to form a political block of centrist democrats.

 

All of this political wrangling is unfairly cast by the media as “turmoil”. Our United States Congress plays with brinksmanship regarding the “fiscal cliff”, name calling among politicians, debating whether all Americans should have access to healthcare and most recently, debates on whether automatic weapons are an entitled right based on our Second Amendment right to bear arms. All of this which is viewed by the political eyes of the rest of the world as politically puzzling. Could this also be called “political turmoil”?

What will evolve in Tunisia’s political process in the days and weeks ahead is any pundit’s guess. However, for a young democracy that went from decades under dictatorships, “turmoil” and “violence” are not adjectives that aptly describe Tunisia’s political process. Rather, democratic political transition, which includes ups and downs, is the more appropriate description of what is taking place.

Hopefully, the United States and other democratic countries can continue providing their support to Tunisia to help them through this process of their very new democracy. The West must stop looking at all of the Middle East and North Africa with the same brush and let Tunisia’s democratic actions let it stand above its neighbors in its path to democracy.

Photo courtesy of Middle East Institute, Washington, DC

 

Jerry Sorkin’s involvement with Tunisia dates back three decades. He lives much of the year in Tunis, Tunisia. Since July 2010, he has served as President of the American Tunisian Association (www.americantunisianassociation.com) . The views expressed are his own.

Inspiration through Travel

The experience of travel can bring all types of rewards. Perhaps one of the most beneficial rewards is that of being inspired to do something good!

On a post-Revolution study tour to Tunisia in the spring of 2011, Mary Tiryak of the Philadelphia area was impressed by many things and many people during this first trip of hers to Tunisia. The growth of civil society in Tunisia has been explosive since the January 2011 Revolution and ouster of former president Ben Ali.

A former professor of English at Temple University in Philadelphia, Mary was photographing throughout the country. One element of her photographs that came through over and over again were the smiles and the warmth of the people of Tunisia. These many faces are captured in what will now become a month long photo exhibit in the Philadelphia area throughout the month of June…”The Face of Tunisia”

Mary is presently back in Tunisia, having been so taken by her experience in 2011, preparing additional photos for the exhibition. An announcement of the exhibit is attached. Mary will be donating the proceeds from the exhibit to a Tunisian NGO (non-governmental organization) whose on-the-ground work was also inspiring to her. Proceeds of all photos sold will be donated to the Tunisian Association for Management and Sociabilitywww.taamstn.org

Thank you Mary, for sharing your inspiring visit to Tunisia with so many people!

Overcoming Diplomatic Hurdles Requires Dialogue!

The other day here in Tunis, where I live much of the year, I attended an event that brought out many families from the Tunis international community of business and diplomatic expats.

Having traveled quite a bit in Iran and knowing many Iranians, I spotted someone who clearly looked Iranian and took advantage of the festive atmosphere to ask the question of a total stranger…”are you from Iran?”  My hunch was correct and he responded in perfect English, expressing interest in my familiarity with Iran. When I told him that I not only have studied Persian culture for years, but have traveled and led tours to Iran, there was even greater surprise.

My house in Tunis happens to be a short walk from where the event was taking place, so I walked home and shortly thereafter, returned with some of the TunisUSA brochures about our tours to Iran and brought them to him. The brochures include numerous photos, as well as quotes from Americans on how warm and welcoming they found Iran and its people. He was clearly pleased!

He noted that he has a brother living in the United States and after chatting a bit more about how cultural travel and engagement brings out the reality of the fact that Americans are quite beloved in Iran, he added that it is true, Iranians love Americans. It is unfortunately, only the people who represent our two governments where there is a lack of communication and trust…he added!

This conversation may have been simply one more of the frequent interactions I have with people from Iran, though in this case, as it turns out, I was speaking with an Iranian diplomat!!!

Travel is one of the best forms of diplomacy. The Stanford University Alumni Association has a trip to Iran this month, with over twenty participants and a wait list! Better understanding and improved relations only come from dialogue! Both sides of political debates must continue to work at dialogues, as there are often more possibilities than we know when we make the effort to dig a bit deeper and know one another better!

Travel for free with TunisUSA

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Yes…starting March 6th with Facebook/tunisusa

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 !

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