Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Moorish Heritage in Tunisia

Ibn Khaldun Statue in downtown Tunis

Look around the cities and towns of Tunis and you will see the footprints of many different civilizations. Carthage and Rome are the best-known examples perhaps, but many other ethnic groups have come to these shores as conquerors, as traders, as migrants and as refugees. For most of the last 4,000 years, Tunisia has welcomed people from around the Mediterranean basin, and Africa, who have brought their own histories, cultures, languages and religions. Each has made their own contribution to the richness and diversity of contemporary Tunisian culture.
Two of these groups are the Andalusians and the Moors. Both these people came as refugees from Spain during the middle ages and settled in Tunisia over several centuries, bringing with them culture and traditions that have become an important part of Tunisia’s cultural heritage.
For many centuries much of the Iberian peninsula – modern-day Spain and Portugal – was under the influence of Moorish culture and Islam. The architectural masterpieces of the Alhambra palace-fortress in Granada or La Mezquita in Cordoba, to cite just two examples, still stand as testaments to the wealth and cultural sophistication of this society. From the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries, however, the peninsula gradually fell under the control of Christians in a process known as the reconquista, which continued until 1492 when the last Moorish city, Granada, fell to Christian Spain.
As a result of the reconquista, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco received two distinct waves of Muslim Spanish migration. The first group – Andalusians – were Arabic-speaking Muslims who started to arrive in 1230. Often wealthy and educated, they had few difficulties integrating with local populations in urban areas such as the medinas of Tunis and Sousse. For example, the historian Ibn Khaldoun (1332-1406), born in Tunis, was from an Andalusian background. He was the first to write about the Amazigh in his book Almuqadima; the Introduction. Today, his statue can be seen in downtown Tunis, opposite the cathedral and French embassy.

The second group consisted of Moors. After Granada fell under the control of the Christians kingdoms in 1492, Muslims were forced to convert to Christianity and adopt the Spanish language and traditions. Despite a ban on Islam, Muslims practiced their religion secretly until their expulsion in 1609 to Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
This expulsion under Phillip III in 1609 marked one of the most significant waves of Moorish immigrants to the country, and their arrival made a large impact on Tunisian culture and popular memory. Some of the wealthier Moors chose to settle in the north fringe of the Medina of Tunis- Bab Souika, Bab Carthagene and Bab El-Khadhra. Many farmers and poorer immigrants settled in several villages scattered throughout the Medjerda Valley and in other parts of northern Tunisia.
Chechia Market Tunis photo 1900

In contrast to the experience of the Andalusians, the Moors had a more difficult time integrating into Tunisian society. Arabic and Islam had been banned for over a century in their Iberian homeland, and the Moorish communities that settled in the countryside in particular, were considered by the established communities to be culturally influenced by Christianity. Moreover, these migrants were not only Muslims: Spanish Jews were also expelled from Spain and joined the Tunisian Jewish community that has existed here since the Diaspora, more than two and a half millennia ago.
Moorish Heritage in Tunisia 
When the Moors left Spain following the reconquista and settled in North Africa, they brought with them their knowledge, culture and aesthetic tastes. Together, the contribution of the Moorish and the Andalusian in Tunisian culture can be seen in the daily life of the Tunisians, particularly in domains such as cuisine, architecture and clothing.
Testour, founded in 1609, is an authentic Moorish village located in Northwestern Tunisia. The urban planning of the town follows Spanish norms- with windows and doors opening onto the streets rather than inner courtyards. The minaret of the city’s mosque is reminiscent of the church bell-towers in Seville and Toledo. A square for bull fighting was even erected before the blood-sport was banned by the local authorities a few decades after the village was founded.
Today, the original layout of the village is still visible and the minaret of the mosque can be seen from the GP5 road on the way to Teboursouk and the archaeological site of Dougga.

The Medina of Tunis is one of the best witnesses of a Moorish contribution to the artistic life of Tunis, not only in terms of architecture but also culture and tradition.
The minarets of many of the mosques were designed by Moorish architects as were a number of palaces and schools, including Bir Lahjar. The colorful and eclectic ceramic wall tiles you can see throughout the medina are also of Andalusian origin.
The chechia, a red felt hat, is another notable Moorish contribution. Souk Chaouachine in the Medina houses the biggest felt-hat workshops. The first waves of these communities who settled in the Medina of Tunis installed the souk very close to the Zitouna Mosque in the heart of Tunis, since the felt-hat is a symbol of wealth and nobility.
Furthermore, the Moorish and the Andalusian architectural influence can be seen in the construction of bridges in Medjerda Valley. In Medjez El-Bab, around 70km west of Tunis capital, a bridge can be seen from the GP5. It was built in 1677, when the Ottoman rulers ordered a bridge to be built on Medjerda valley to make the work of tax collectors easier. The construction was supervised by Moors since they had experience in such work.
Medjez el bab Bridge supervised by a Moorish engineer

Ridha Mami is an expert on the Moorish Culture in Tunisia and in the Mediterranean who teaches in Manouba University in Tunis and Madrid University. He told Tunisia Live that the Moorish heritage can be observed in several common family names of Tunisians including Morou (Moor), Tlatli (from Toledo) and Qortbi (from Cordoba).   Mami also argued that one of the most significant contribution of the Moors to Tunisian culture is in cuisine. The names of many dishes have Spanish roots. Ojja for example is derived from olla the pot. Moreover, in Soliman, some 40km south of Tunis, a typical pie is made from cheese and parsley: Banadhej. This name has been derived from the Spanish term empanada.

Testour Mosque: the minaret follows the model of Sevilleans chruch bell-towers

In addition, Moorish heritage extends to the arts, and especially especially music. The traditional music genre of Ma’luf has Andalusian origins. In particular, two Tunisian musicians have left their touch on this music, Habiba Msika (1903-1930) and Khmaies Tarnen(1894-1965), both of whom came from Moorish families.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Rome Never Dies; From Thysdrus To El jem

In the small village of El jem, which has only 18,000 inhabitants, a monument stands to recall its old glory when it was the Roman town of Thysdrus.
With more than 500,000 tourists per year, the El jem amphitheater is one of the most visited monuments in Tunisia. It is sixty km from Sousse, another tourist town where more than two million people come to spend their holiday each year. Local travel agencies usually organize a half-day trip to El jem with reasonable prices.
Arena and cavea

The amphitheater was built at the end of the second century thanks to donations from the wealthy citizens of Thysdrus who wanted to show their loyalty to Roman culture. It is the third biggest Roman amphitheater, after the Colosseum of Rome and the amphitheater of Capua. It remains one of the most well-preserved and complete amphitheaters in the world.
The last to be built in the Roman empire, the El jem amphitheater benefited from the accumulated experience of Roman builders. Although it follows the model of Rome's Colosseum, it is elliptical in shape rather than circular, with 427 m on the outer circumference. It stands on flat ground with the support of a complex arch system that holds its three floors and 36m height. The seats can hold between 27,000 and 30,000 spectators, divided into three compartments and separated by balustrades, arranged according to social class. Notable guests used to sit in a sort of horizontal platform near the arena to be close to the action.
Under the arena is a gallery, the site of the amphitheater's bloody past. It contains more then ten rooms where prisoners and animals were kept. The amphitheater games were a part of the Thysdrus culture and a popular pastime. Venatio, or shows that pitted men against wild beasts, were popular in Thysdrus, as were the executions of criminals and prisoners of war.
Since the start of French occupation in 1881, excavations on the amphitheater have unearthed many mosaics that are now exhibited in a museum, some 600 meters from the amphitheater. These mosaics narrate the popularity of Venatio games that were substitutes for Roman Gladiator shows. The cult of the wine God Bacchus was also a common
event in the arena, and some specialists have said that the amphitheater games were dedicated to this God. The procession that preceded the shows were dedicated to him. The cult was largely among the slaves who used to fight for their freedom under the slogan "Bacchus Liber Pater" (Bacchus Father of the Free).
With the decline of Rome, games were stopped, and the huge amphitheater was then used as a citadel by the Berbers led by their queen "Al-kahina" ("the priestess") in the seventh century, when the Arab troups started to attack the actual Tunisian territory. The Arab historians described it as Lajem, a word derived from the Arab word "ajem" - the citadel - which turned into the current name "El Jem." In 1695, the tribes rose against the political taxation of the Tunis-based ruler Mohamed Bey. The tribes escaped and took refuge in the amphitheater. The solders used cannons and opened breaches. These breaches can also be seen.
Since 1985, the amphitheater has been resurrected thanks to the International Festival of Symphonic Music. Musicians from Tunisia and the rest of the world come and perform from mid-July until mid-August.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

From Thugga to Dougga

Named as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, Dougga illustrates the synthesis of local and Mediterranean cultures that have left their mark on the ancient city throughout the ages.
Burial sites in the southern quarter of the site indicate that Dougga was founded during the Neolithic era (2000 BC).
The choice of the site was appropriate. It’s easily defensible against outside attack with its steep slopes and high cliffs as well as ideal for human settlement with fertile lands for agriculture and plenty of raw materials nearby for industry.
In the 4th century BC, the Greeks of Sicily led by Agathocles decided to fight the Carthaginians in their own territory. The city of Toccai was taken by Greeks in the campaign according to historical records and has been identified by modern-day scholars as Thugga, the ancient name of Dougga,
In 202 BC, capitalizing upon the weakness of Carthage at the end of the Second Punic War, the Numidians took control of Thugga, which became the capital of their kingdom, according to some historians. The Numidian Kingdom extended from northwestern Tunisia across northern Algeria. Under the reign of Massinissa (202-148 BC) and his son Micipa, Thugga witnessed a golden age in which the arts flourished.
Furthermore, this period in Thugga’s history has provided a significant collection of epigraphic and archaeological insight to the way of life at that time. In fact, it has provided the most ancient Lybic inscriptions known to date.
The mausoleum of Dougga, in the southern edge of the site, is the only intact structure that displays official Numidian architecture
Royal Mausoleum

in the 2nd century BC. It consists of a 21m tower topped by a pyramid and a lion and was dedicated to King Massinissa.
One century later, Thugga was conquered by the Romans, and the Roman province of “Africa Proconsularis” annexed the Numidian city. During Roman times, the city was composed of two districts – one for local inhabitants and another for Roman settlers. The Roman influence swiftly made an impact on the nature of the town, but the original layout inherited from the Numidian kingdom remained unchanged.
Local inhabitants assimilated Roman deities into their worship. For example, the Roman temples of Saturn and Caellestis were built over the ruins of previous temples to local deities – Baal and Tanit – respectively. Both of these Roman temples are found outside the cities’ walls while those of other major Roman deities are in the center of the city.
Monuments were erected as displays of Dougga’s loyalty to Rome, and the remnants of ancient Roman structures are testimony to the city’s golden age in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Dougga’s theater, which is the best preserved in all of Tunisia, was built under the reign of the Antonian dynasty in the 2nd century. The Capitol, or the Temple of Jupiter, occupied the center of the city as a sign of Roman unity. The worship of Jupiter was the official religion at the time, and it was incumbent upon any respectful citizen to make sacrifices there.
Dougga Capitol

The city was not lacking in public baths. The largest of Dougga’s baths unearthed so far are the Licinian baths, which were constructed in the 3rd century thanks to the donations of rich Roman citizens.
Under the reign of the Severan emperors (193-235 AD) Thugga became a Municipium, a Roman city ruled by its own citizens, and even achieved the status of a colony in which all citizens were granted Roman citizenship.
When the Byzantines took over the administration of the city in the sixth century, they channeled enormous effort to fortify the city. Many stone blocks were removed from their original structures to be inserted in huge walls that would enclose the forum and the temple of Jupiter. Latin inscription can be found on these Byzantine walls.
Like the rest of the Roman cities in the province, Thugga declined with the arrival of the Arabs in the seventh century. Despite this decadence, it remained inhabited, and archaeologists have discovered ceramics and potteries from the 11th century. A small mosque, built a few centuries ago, rests on the eastern side of a pagan temple.
An old tradition with pagan origins survived the arrival of Islam and continues to this day. It’s the Lalla Mokhola along the ruins of Dougga’s Ain el-Hammam cisterns. Curious visitors can discover whitewashed walls bearing handprints, henna, the remains of burnt out candles, and brownish traces of dried blood from a chicken sacrificed to Lalla Mokhola, the Mistress and patron saint of the inhabitants. Lalla Mokhola was a lady, who arrived to the city in time immemorial. When she wanted to depart, she was obliged to stay by Dougga’s residents due to the prodigious, mystical powers she possessed.
At the end of the spring, a Zarda- a celebration involving sacrifice – is organized. The inhabitants collect money to buy a white ox
A Local Paying Respects in the modern-day Shrine to Lalla Mokhola

and spend a night near the cisterns because they think that this woman comes out from the nearby spring and pours oil on the head of the ox. In the morning, the ox is sacrificed and the meat distributed to the families.
The procession of Lalla Mokhola is a legacy of the Roman cult to the water spring. A Roman aqueduct, built in 184 AD, brought its water supply to the city. This cult is even mentioned in Latin inscriptions found near the aqueduct.
In 1960, a new village was built to shelter the inhabitants, who used to live amidst the ruins of the ancient city. It’s located on the road that links Tunis to el-Kef (GP5) and known as New Dougga

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Ahmed Jaouadi: The Other Face of Kairoaun

Ahmed Jaouadi: The Other Face of Kairoaun: Kairouan is the fifth-biggest city in Tunisia with more than 150,000 inhabitants. It’s 155 km south of Tunis and 65 km west of the Sahel –...

Monday, December 3, 2012

Ahmed Jaouadi: Come To Tunisia

Ahmed Jaouadi: Come To Tunisia: Dear customers I invite you to discover Tunisia. I organize private tours for groups and individuals. Tunisia is a rich country, mor...

The Other Face of Kairoaun

Kairouan is the fifth-biggest city in Tunisia with more than 150,000 inhabitants. It’s 155 km south of Tunis and 65 km west of the Sahel – Tunisia’s eastern coast.
The Arabs founded the city in the 7th century and made it into a military base during their conquest of the Maghreb and Spain. Later it became the capital of Ifriqiya, the Arabic name for Tunisia in the Middle Ages, and was the largest metropolis in the western basin of the Mediterranean Sea for more than three centuries.
Nowadays, Kairouan is the most visited city in central Tunisia, thanks to its rich Islamic heritage. One of the Prophet Mohamed’s companions, Abou Zumaa Balaoui, is buried there. During Mouled – the festival that celebrates the birthday of the Prohpet Mohamed – thousands of visitors from Tunisia and abroad descend upon the city.
Kairouan is blessed with an important architectural and cultural heritage. With its massive, ancient walls, Kairouan’s medina remains one of the most authentic in Tunisia. Its grand mosque even served as a model for other mosques constructed in the Maghreb as well. Designed in the form of a citadel, it bears witness to the city’s military origins.
The Backroads of Kairouan
Despite the large number of visitors who come to Kairouan each year, relatively few take the time to explore the hills and mountains behind the city. Those who do explore these backroads are rewarded with wonderful views and the opportunity to experience some of Tunisia’s impressive pre-Islamic heritage. This dates back to pre-historic times and includes the Byzantine era in the 5th and 6th centuries AD. Much of this history is ignored not only by many Tunisians but by specialists in the field as well.
Ksar Limsa
Ksar Limsa
Ksar Limsa is often described as one of the most beautiful and most complete Byzantine monuments in Tunisia.
 With walls gilded by sunshine and crenellated towers, this fortress overlooks the valley of Oued Mahrouf some 30 km north-west of Kairouan near the village of Al Ouesllatia. 
The fortress is rectangular in shape, flanked by 13-meter high towers in each corner. The walls are around eight meters high and a crenellated parapet protects the wall walk.
 The inner courtyard measures 31 meters in width and 28 in length. The walls were built by stone collected from the ancient Roman town of Limisa. Constructed in the 6th century, it is a typical “castellum” built by the Byzantines to protect the town from attack.
Rock Art in Djebel Ouesllat 
This large and impressive mountain covers more than 130,000 hectares. Although it’s hard to reach and lacks water, this mountain has known human occupation for over 5,000 years.
Rock Art in Djebel Ouesslat
Ouesllat mountain contains an impressive quantity of wall paintings that demonstrate the existence of disappeared species. The paintings show that the white rhinoceros, the great ancient buffalo, as well as antelope, giraffe, hyena,
 and ostrich, once lived in the region.
Precious details about daily life are also revealed, such as hunting and family life. Domestic animals, such as cows, goats, sheep, and dogs, are well-illustrated in bucolic pasture scenes.
This mountain’s more recent history is likewise remarkable. The tribes of this mountain were very hostile towards any central authority and historically supported all kinds of rebellion against it.
In the beginning of the 18th Century, the hill tribes supported Hussein Ben Ali, the founder of the Husseinite monarchy that ruled Tunisia until 1957. During a bitter civil war between Ben Ali and his nephew, Ali Pacha, local villagers were punished by the Pacha for their support of Ali, who was murdered by Pacha and whose death was avenged by his sons – the ultimate victors of the war. All of the olive trees were cut down and the inhabitants were exiled during the Pacha’s reprisals.
These days the region is largely deserted, despite its fertile soil, and the abandoned villages have been left untouched for two hundred years. They stand witness to this important and bloody period of the Tunisian history.
The villages of Ouesllatia and Ksar Limsa can still be visited by car if one takes the regional roads – 99 and 46 – from Kairouan. Guided tours can be also organized from Kairouan.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Camels in Tunisia

The one-humped camel dromedary (Camelus dromedarius) was first domesticated some 4000 years ago. In Tunisia, the Berber tribes of the south used it for their transportation. Then in the beginning of the first century BC, Romans started using camels to explore the hinterland of Tunisia. The camel was represented in Roman artistic works such as mosaics and reliefs in the second and the third century. The camel was also depicted on Roman coins.
A mosaic exhibeted in El Jem museum depecting Silenus riding a camel
One of the most significant mosaics is the “Dyonisiac Procession” in the El Jem museum where Silenus the foster-father of Bacchus is riding a camel instead of donkey and Bacchus is riding an African lion instead of panther.

The dromedary has a special status in the life of nomads because it is the base of their economy. The Bedouin classification of the camel notes four basic varieties based on the color of the coat. The Mehari is a small, white camel used for races and hunting and can reach 70km per hour. The Tunisian border guards in the Sahara desert in Tunisia’s south are known as the Mehari troup due to the camel that they use. The second is the red camel which is used for goods transportation, especially heavy goods. The third is the yellow camel that is usually bred with females from other varieties, and the male is consecrated as a stud to produce other varieties of camels. The last variety consists of a dark-coated camel that is often used for smuggling and is called a Lazreg by locals.

Camel milk is healthy and rich in proteins that can’t be found in cow or goat milk, and is regularly drunk by Tunisians. The milk is particularly rich in insulin and is recommended for people with diabetes. The milk mustn’t be boiled because it loses its nutritional value. Camel milk tastes similar to cow’s milk. If a traveler wants to try the milk they can ask a local camel guide.
Mixed breed camels are the best for eating. Many restaurants in central and southern Tunisia serve camel meat at good prices. Kairoaun is one of the best places where you can try the meat. Its mild flavor makes it well-suited to dishes such as couscous.
The camel is the base of the economic life of the Bedouin tribes. The hair is sheared in April and May. Since it is light and durable, the hair is then used as an insulator and to make clothes that protect from the extreme heat of summer as well as the cold nights and winter days. Nomadic tents are also made from the hair. The traditional north African coats Qashabia and the Barnous are made of  camel hair and can be purchased from handicrafts shops in traditional Tunisian markets.
Driving through the Sahara, foreign visitors can see wandering herds of camels that are usually assumed to be wild. But each camel in these herds have an owner that they go home to.
Today, the camel contributes to the development of cultural tourism in the Tunisian south. The camel ride is one of the main attractions of the Tunisian Sahara that gives the visitors the opportunity to experience the life of a nomad.
Camels waiting for riders Douz

Douz, known as the gateway to the Sahara, is one of the most frequented resorts in the south. Visitors have the opportunity to ride camels thanks to specific stations built for that purpose. Ali Arouri, a manager of a camel station in Douz, said that the best time to enjoy camel rides is in the spring between March and April, when the weather is cool and the temperature doesn’t reach over 30 degrees.
Independent travelers can organize multi-day camel treks through the desert. Appel du Desert is one of several companies that organize à la carte trips. The average price range for a week-long trip is 500 euros per person for a group of ten people.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Christian Carthage

Chapel of St Perpetua

Rotonde Carthage

No trip to Tunis, however brief, should exclude a visit to Carthage. Once the greatest rival to Rome, and later a Roman province in its own right, the collection of ruins, museums and artifacts is difficult to surpass. Often glossed-over in tours and guidebooks, however, is the rich early-Christian heritage that can be found in and around Carthage. This heritage tells its own story about the life and politics of one of the cradles of civilization in the Mediterranean.
Carthage played an important role in the development of Christianity in antiquity. The new religion gained a foothold in the Jewish communities that had settled in the big cities of the diaspora and developed amongst the Roman colony. Relatively little is known about the early days of the Christian community in Carthage but it is clear that the first Christians were oppressed and many of them were killed in the city’s amphitheater.
Tertulian, the first Christian apologist, who translated the holy scripture from Greek into Latin, gives an account of the Scilitain, who were amongst the first martyrs to be executed for their faith. Twelve Numidians, seven men and five women were beheaded in the amphitheater of Carthage in the year 180. Other Christians were persecuted in the amphitheater, among them Saint Perpetua and Felicity who were killed on the 8th of March 203.
After several centuries of oppression, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire when Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 313. The Roman province of Africa (current-day Tunisia) was profoundly affected by this new faith, but followers quickly split into two churches: Catholics and Donatists. The Donatistic sect emerged in the fourth century when the Numidian bishops accused the bishop of Carthage of being a traitor and rejected his consecration. For more than a century the church was divided, until 411 when Saint Augustine organized a council in Carthage, ending the division.

The Vandal invasion of 533 caused new waves of persecution and oppression to Catholics in Carthage. The Vandals were a Germanic people that followed the Aryan Church and forced the captured North Africans to follow it as well. The Vandal occupation ended in 533 when the Byzantine empire conquered the territory and established the Catholic church again. It remained until the fall of Carthage in 698 and the beginning of Arab control of Africa.
The role of Carthage as an important site of Christian culture has been appreciated by the European Catholics since the middle ages. The expedition of Louis IX in 1270, known as the Eighth Crusade, is classified among the most important expeditions with a specific mission: to convert the Tunisians to Christianity and make Carthage its new capital. However Louis IX died on the beach at Carthage and the expedition was a failure.
French missionaries did not return for six centuries and it was not until the late 19th century that France again sent missionaries. An organization known as the White Fathers was founded by the archbishop of Alger, Charles Lavigerie, in order to spread Christianity in North Africa. The missionary group started excavations on the site of Carthage to find items that belong to the Christian era. They also built a cathedral at the top of Byrsa hill where Louis IX died during his expedition. This cathedral, known as Saint Louis cathedral, is no longer used for worship but is a cultural center. Nevertheless, the layout of the building is a reminder of the sacred mission of the White Fathers.
 Visiting the Early Christian Sites of Tunis
To visit the ruins of Carthage in general, and Christian Carthage in particular, it is possible to visit the major sites on foot. However in warm weather or for those with reduced mobility, it is best to hire a car or taxi. The main Christian sites are scattered throughout the historical site of Carthage, as well as in unprotected residential areas of the northern suburb of Tunis. A ticket to visit the historical sites costs 9 dinars per person for a day-pass to all sites.
Inside the amphitheater in Carthage, you can visit a chapel the White Fathers built in honor of Saint Perpetua and Felicity. Recognizing their strong will and faith, Pope John Paul II spent around two hours on his knees in .
The Early-Christian museum lies on the edge of the main street that crosses the north suburbs of Tunis, running from La Goulette to Sidi Bou Said. It is close to the TGM station Carthage Dermech and the supermarket Monoprix. The museum was built on the ruins of a major building raised in the sixth century when Carthage was recaptured by Byzantine troops. The museum was built with the collaboration of UNESCO to protect the site of Carthage. It exhibits oil lamps, mosaics depicting birds, chalices and pottery.

The basilica of Damous Karita “domus caritas” or the house of charity, is a church built in the third or fourth century. It has been described by some scholars the cradle of the division between the Christians; the Donatism that deeply divided the African Christians. The basilica follows the classic layout of the Christian churches with nine naves and a semi-circular atrium. The most significant part is the underground rotunda with its 9m diameter. The rotunda is topped by a dome and reached by two symmetric staircases. The Damous Karita is near the large mosque in Carthage on La Goulette Road.

The original function of the building with columns that can be found at the back of Byrsa hill, also on La Goulette road, is unclear. Some say it was the gymnasium of baths. It is believed to be the place where the conference was organized by Saint Augustine to unify the African church after the division between the Donatist and Catholic churches in the 5th century.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Catacombs of Sousse

From the first century AD, Christians were considered a threat to the unity of Rome and were oppressed and persecuted by Roman authorities for more than four hundred years across the empire. In fact, they were not even allowed to bury their dead in ordinary cemeteries. Thus, they resorted to “catacombs,” which were underground passageways for burial and religious purposes.
Africa, the early Roman name given to the province of modern-day Tunisia, was no exception. Christians here were oppressed and killed in several amphitheaters scattered throughout the ancient province.
The catacombs of Sousse, discovered by the French army in the 19th century, are the only in Tunisia that are open to visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of these underground vestiges of Christianity in ancient Tunisia. They are comprised of galleries stretching over five kilometers and contain at least 15,000 graves, dating back to the end of the first century AD. Either two or three levels of tombs are dug into the galleries’ walls as well as niches holding lamps to light the depths of the labyrinth.
One gallery, known as the catacombs of the Good Pastor, is the only section open to visitors and extends over 1.6 km. Its ancient walls house approximately 6,000 graves.
The burial practices employed in Sousse’s catacombs often involved dipping the corpse in calcium-rich lime and shrouding it with cloth. Once the body was interred, the grave was then covered over with tiles or marble slabs on which the names of the dead were frequently written. Some objects that were buried with the dead can be found in the museum of Sousse.
Catacombs of Sousee

Many sections of the catacombs have not been excavated due to urbanization encroaching on top of the archaeological site. Nejib Ben Lazreg, a Tunisian archaeologist, said that many Tunisians are not aware of the importance of the ruins. So far, only two hundred meters of the catacombs have been restored.
“The excavation of any site needs to be funded,” he said. Ben Lazreg pointed out that there are other catacombs in the coastal cities of Lamta and Salakta. Nevertheless, their excavations have been on hold since the end of the 1990s due to the lack of funding as well as the construction of new buildings above them.
The catacombs of Sousse are open to visitors at an entrance fee of 4 Tunisian dinars.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hannibal From Rome To Zama

*Hannibal strategy:
Hannibal wanted to free Carthage from Roman pressure not destroying Rome. He thought that his victories would halt the Roman alliances with the rest of the Italian cities.

Hannibal recognized that he can't rely on the Italian cities. He decided to make alliance with Phillip V, king of Macedon. However, he wasn't able to supply with a navy. The alliance failed and Rome supplied the king of Macedon with navy.

Besides, after the death of Hiero, ruler of Syracuse, his successor made an  alliance with Hannibal. People in Syracuse rose up and killed the new ruler. The alliance ended and Sicily restored by Roman in 211BC.

Hannibal controlled much of Campania and Southern Italy. Despite his superiority and tactical skills, Hannibal was unable to withstand the new Roman tactic. They start with Capua which fell in 211.
Hannibal route of invasion

Roman army started to make pressure on the Carthaginian territory outside Italy. They took Carthegena in 209BC. Hannibal brother, Hasdrubal, was defeated by Roman army led by Scipio Africanus Hasdrubal wanted to join Hannibal in Italy, but surprised by Scipio forces near Metauro. He was beheaded and his head was thrown into Hannibal camp. It became obvious for him that he can't rely on senators in Carthage.

In 206BC, Carthaginians were expelled from Spain. Two years later, Romans landed in Africa and Hannibal was forced to come back. After the reinforcement, he confronted Roman army in Zama. He was cheated by Numidian king Massinissa. The Numidian horsemen supported Rome and destroyed Carthaginian army. This battle is known as the Battle of  Zama, 202BC.

A hostile peace treaty was signed, Carthage territory restricted, heavy taxes and no war without Rome permission. Hannibal returned to private life.



Monday, November 5, 2012

Hannibal At The Gates Of Rome

After the first Punic War, Barcids founded Carthagena, new Carthage in Spain. Hannibal was named as a commander in 221 BC. He relied on diplomacy and military policy to set up a powerful metropolis in Iberia similar to Carthage in north Africa.
In 218 BC, he left Spain with about 35000 seasoned troops including elephants. He went overland across Pyrenees and Alps. on route, the number of troops was reduced to 25000 due to the harsh winter in the mountains. However, the number raised to 40000 after the addition of Gauls.

In the beginning of the Invasion, Hannibal troops won a minor victory at Ticina river(the map) followed by an important triumph against Scipio at Trebia river in 218 BC.

Hannibal had a decided advantage in Northern Italy thanks to the support of the Gauls, the traditional enemies of Rome. He wintered in Bologna while Italians withdraw to central Italy and await Hannibal.

In spring Hannibal crossed the Apennines and lost his left eye after an infection. 
Battles of the Second Punic War
In 217 BC, Roman army led by Gaius Flaminus and Servilius Geminus stationed at Arrezo and Rimini. The purpose is to guard the routes that Hannibal may use. Hannibal ambushed Flaminus army in a narrow pass near lake Tarismene and destroyed his army.

At Rome Quintius Fabious was elected by the centuriate assembly dictator of Rome . The elected dictator has a specific plan to defeat Hannibal. The plan is to force him to an unfavorable ground to fight him. Hannibal sent oxen with burnings sticks tied to their horns and escaped to Apulia.    

In 216 BC Fabius sent a formidable army led by two generals. Hannibal relied on his strong cavalry while the Romans relied on their superior number.

Hannibal plan was positioning his cavalry on a crescent-shaped line, to defeat the Roman horsemen quickly and attack the infantry from the rear. The plan is to to press from the flanks and encircle the Roman troops. The plan succeeded; 25000 dead and 10000 captured.

To be continued

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Bricks of Tozeur

Tozeur is a city in southwestern Tunisia and home to the country’s biggest oasis containing hundreds of thousands of palm trees. Its economy is based on the export of dates and “Saharan” tourism. In fact, more than 700 thousands visitors – both Tunisians and foreigners – come to enjoy the beauty of its mountain oasis.
Scores of ponds are scattered throughout the oasis and outside its confines. The layers of silt found at the bottom of these ponds provide the essential raw material for the local brick industry. With summer temperatures reaching 45 degrees, the extracted silt takes little time to dry and assume its yellowish, hardened form that is known in its Arabic name as “toub.”
Walking around the old city of Tozeur, one is immediately confronted by intricate, geometrical patterns of “toub” that decorate the buildings’ façades and the walls of the old city’s narrow passageways. These yellow bricks astonishingly maintain houses cool in the stifling heat of the summer and even warm in the cold winter.
Brick of Tozeur

Abdelhamid Haddan, a writer, painter, and artist, described the manufactory process of the brick of this yellowish brick. Mud and sand are mixed together and then soaked in water. Afterwards, mulch is added. The mixture is then moulded within small rectangular wooden frames and left to dry in the sun for one day in summer and ten in winter. Finally, the bricks are baked in a kiln under extreme temperatures reaching over 1000 degree celsius.
Haddan pointed out that the brick’s production is very economical. 1 cubic meter of clay can produce in turn 1000 bricks. The brick measures 17 cm by 8 cm and 3.5 cm high and weighs 728 grams.
The technique of Tozeur’s brick-making is Mesopotamian in origin and brought by the Arabs in the 8th century. Due to the similarity of environment, Arab settlers found Tozeur to be a propitious location to continue their brick-making traditions, claimed Haddan.
For those who plan to visit Tozeur, Haddan’s book The Brick of Tozeur is available in the city’s libraries in English as well as French and can be consulted for more information.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Saint Augustine; The Tunisian Father Of The Catholic Church

It is a little known fact that Saint Augustine, the great Christian reformist of antiquity, is Tunisian. He was raised in the city of Carthage where he taught before being named the Bishop of Hippo.
Sandro Botticelli Saint Augustine

Born in 354 from a pagan father and a Christian mother, Augustine is a native of Thagaste, which today is Souk Ahras on the Tunisian Algerian border. It was here that he studied Latin grammar before moving to Carthage in 370. There he became a Manichean and founded a school of rhetoric. His next move took him to Italy where he was again converted, this time to skepticism and installed a school of rhetoric in Rome and Milan similar to the Carthage school.
His mother  Monica was a Christian, and for many years prayed to see him converted to Christianity. In 387 her prayers were answered, and Augustine was baptized at Easter. They decided to travel back home to Africa, but on the way his mother died at the port of Ostia. Augustin recorded his conversations with his mother before her death in a book called Confessions.
After his return to Tagaste, Augustine decided to live a monastic life, selling everything he had and giving it to the poor, only keeping what was necessary to live on. Augustine at the time had no intention of becoming a priest or a bishop. But in 395 the he was asked to be the Bishop of Hippo. He accepted, and began trying to unify the African Church, that was at the time deeply divided between the Donatist and Catholic sects. In 411 he condemned the division and succeeded in bringing the African Church together.

Like the rest of the Roman Empire, North Africa was assaulted by the Vandals in 430.  Hippo became isolated and Saint Augustin died at the age of 76.
In modern theology, Saint Augustin is considered the father of the Catholic Church, his writings having influenced the society of much of the  Western World. The theories of Saint Augustine were shaped by a marriage between Greek philosophy and his religious beliefs. The blend of these two influences can be seen in his notion of the Soul, the relationship between God and man and even the Trinity.
Saint Augustine often traveled from Tagaste to Carthage, on a specific route which he described in his writings. Nowadays, this path through Tunisia can be followed on organized tours, called On the Path of Saint Augustine. Lotfi Rahmouni, a Tunisian professor of in archaeology, said that the Vatican is among the organizers of this trip in collaboration with Tunisian travel agencies. He said also that the trip is most popular with Catholics, many of whom consider it a pilgrimage.
Chemtou Bridge; Saint Augustine used to cross on route to Carthage

The trip starts from Tagaste, at the Souk Ahras in Augustine’s hometown, and finishes in Carthage where he established a school and unified the Christians of Africa in 411. They also pass through Chemtou and Bulla Reggia and sometimes Haidra, where the Bishop spent time with his father.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ruins of Punic Carthage

The ruins of a Carthaginian sector that was built under the reign of Hannibal   

Photos taken by Laurna Botham

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tunis sheep;

 Tunis Sheep is a hornless sheep with white wools that breed in North America(US and Canada). It's usually raised for its meat.

The name indicates its North African origin. Tunis is the capital of Tunisia since 1236.Two years after its independence, the young republic of the United States stared to establish a diplomatic relation with Tunisia. that belongs to what Americans used to call "Barbarian Coast". The coast was controlled by pirates who used to attack commercial vessels. But the young republic of the US had made a deal with the pirates to not attack American vessels sailing in the Mediterranean. 

Tunis Sheep Photo
After the deal, the ruler of Tunis, Hamouda Pasha send a gift to the US president, Thomas Jefferson. A vessel of local sheep.Ten were shipped to US but two survived. They were used on native ewes.........

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Legendary Tunisia

When it belonged to early Mediterranean civilization, the land of Tunisia featured in two of the oldest and greatest poems in the world: Homer's Odyssey and Virgil's Aeneid.

In Homer's Odyssey, Ulysses on his way  home from Troy with the rest of companions reached of Lotus-Eaters. Archaeologists refer it as the actual island of Djerba, 500 km south-east of Tunis capital.

In Virgil Aeneid, Aeneas was hosted by Dido, a princess from Phoenicia who escaped her city Tyre after the assassination of her husband. She founded Carthage and became its queen. Aeneas, the prince of  Troy who escaped it after the siege and the capture by the Greek. Aeneas destination is to found Rome from the ashes of Troy.

Aeneas was surprised by a storm that turned him to Carthage. He was welcomed by its ruler Dido. Shell fell in love with him but his mother Venus ordred him to leave Carthage and found Rome. Dido suicided after his departure while he arrived in Italian shores.

 Virgil inspired by two muses(Clio the muse of History with the writing tablet and Melpomene the muse of tragedy with mask)  writing the Aeneid (the 8th verse):
Musa mihi causas memora quo numine laes.... 
O muse put me in mind.....
The Aeneid of Virgil was written under Octavius, the son of Caesar and the founder of the Roman empire. He decided to rebuilt Carthage and made it the capital of Africa Proconsularis. Carthage was destroyed by the Romans in 146BC and the territory was considered accursed. Octavius wanted to find a religious excuse to rebuilt Carthage again. Dido and Aeneas symbolise Carthage andRome, her suicide may symbolise the end of Carthage. Aeneas may refer to Octavius who rebuilt the Roman Carthage.      

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hilary Clinton in Tunisia

February 2012, Hilary Clinton visited Tunisia. The US embassy in Tunis arranged a meeting for civil society activist.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Synagogue of Djerba

From one of the oldest Jewish sanctuaries in the world, The synagogue of Djerba, Some Tunisian Jew reading the Torah  

Sun Rise in Ong Jemal

Ong Jemal in the Tunisian Sahara is one of the most beautiful spots to watch sun rise
Star Wars movie was shot there

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Introduction To Roman Tunisia

After the unification of the Italic peninsula, Rome came into conflicts with Carthage, a commercial power. The Roman ambitious started to emerge. They considered the Mediterranean Sea as theirs "Mare Nostrum". Thus the position of Carthage is strategic. With its destruction in 146BC, Rome became the new ruler of the territory. They ruled a territory that included the western and eastern coasts. Numidian kingdom stayed independent after the support of its king Massinissa.  With the strait of Messine, Rome controlled the universal wealth for more than six centuries.    

During the Roman civil war, the rulers of Numidia supported his rival Pompey. Caesar sent his army to Africa and defeated them in 46BC at Thapsus, actual Ras-Dimas , Tunisia.

To punish the Numidian kings, Caesar decided to annexe their kingdom to the Roman territory. The Numidian kingdom includes the east of Algeria and the west of Tunisia.This part was called Africa Nova "New Africa" while the first territory was known as Africa Vetus "Old Africa"  The new roman province  was ruled by a governor named by the Roman Consul.Since it became Africa proconsularis. Even with the transformation of Rome into an empire,Africa kept the name of proconsularis.
Map of the Proconsularis: It included the eastern part of Algeria

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The truth behind the destruction of Carthage

In 433, Carthage and the rest of the province of Africa fell under the control of the Vandals. These Germanic tribes had invaded Europe before founding their empire in north Africa that Carthage was the capital.

Many historians have confirmed that the Vandals destroyed the Roman Carthage. They had wrecked Gaul, Spain and Italy itself before occupying Carthage and north Africa.

When French archaeologists started the excavation of the site of Carthage, they declared that Roman Carthage was destroyed by Vandals and later by Arabs.

The approach of the French archaeologists "missionaries" is completely wrong: First Vandals founded an empire and they used the buildings left by Romans. Second, the mission of these archaeologists is to find a "link" between the French history and Tunisian history. Third, the French missionaries didn't read the perfect description of the ruins of Carthage by the Arabs historians and geographers. They mentioned that the Roman buildings remained intact. In the 13th century, the rulers decided to built the second level of Tunis walls. They used the huge buildings as a quarry.......
Bath of Antoninus Carthage: Albekri in the 11th century described with perfect details the building and its huge columns 

Come To Tunisia

Dear customers

I invite you to discover Tunisia. I organize private tours for groups and individuals.
The price is negotiable. It depends on number of the clients and other issues......
The price includes normally the service of English Speaking Guide and transportation (car, bus,  4WD....)  

Tunisia is a rich country, more than 3000 of history. Nowadays 8 sites are listed by UNESCO as a world heritage. Here i offer you a trip to discover these sites: UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Tunisia

 Photos from Tunisia : Different photos to show the richness and the diversity of the Tunisian culture.....

To read what I write about my country

For your reservation these are my contacts:
          Phone: 00216 22 023 532
                       00216 52 270 057

Monday, September 10, 2012

Bacchus in Roman African Mosaics

Bacchus is the God if wine and vegetation in the Roman mythology. He was assimilated to the Greek God of wine Dionysus.

The birth of the god is a mystery. His father, Jupiter sewed him up in his thigh for four month because his mother Semele, the princess of Thebes, was burned to ashes. She was the first Jupiter mistress to ask him to appear in all his god majesty. The burn was caused by Jupiter lighting and thunder when he came before her.

Bacchus was raised by satyrs, man with goat legs and pointed ears. Silenus, the oldest of the satyrs, taught him the secret of cultivating grapes and making wine.
Bacchus was represented as a handsome youth-god, beardless with long hair with wine ivy or vine leaves on the head. Bacchus like riding panthers and tigers. 

Bacchus in Roman African Mosaics   
Since the occupation of the Numidian territories by Caesar in 46BC, the Roman culture started to spread. A new culture emerged, Romano-African culture. Nowadays, Tunisia has the biggest collection of mosaics tableau. These mosaics are the witness of the flourished Roman-African culture.
Bacchus was represented in many tableau that archaeologists have extracted from the ground. It seems that he was assimilated to Shadrapha, the Semitic god that has the same features as Bacchus. ElJem museum shelters the most important tableaux depicting Bacchus and his cycle.
Mosaic depicting Bacchus riding a lion with a satyr and Silenus: Eljem Museum 2nd century

Bacchus surrounded by seasons and centaurs, Acholla (Henchir Botria north of Sfax) 2nd century.  

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A ne pas rater : Une journée à Kairouan

Première fondation Arabo-musulmane au Maghreb et quatrième ville sainte de l’Islam, Kairouan n’était qu’un camp militaire instauré par les troupes Arabes conduits par le General Ukba Ibn Nafi en 670. L’emplacement semble judicieux, le site occupe un plateau qui se trouve à 60km de la mer et de la montagne. Or les Byzantins contrôlaient la mer alors que les Berbères se refugiaient dans les montagnes qui l’entourent.
Le début de la huitième siècle marque la fin de la conquête, Carthage tomba sous le contrôle des Arabes et Africa n’est plus une province Byzantine. Le nom devin Ifriqiya dont le gouverneur fut nommé par le Calife à Damas. Carthage céda la place à Kairouan et les Berbères commencèrent à se convertir en Islam. De plus plusieurs Arabes natifs de la péninsule arabique et le Cham choisissaient Kairouan pour y vivre. Vers le milieu du huitième siècle, Kairouan fut la plus grande cité du Maghreb.
Pour quatre siècles, Kairouan était la capitale de l’Ifriqiya avec une population de 500000 habitants.
En 800, une dynastie Persane, les Aghlabides, se proclama indépendante de Baghdâd. Cette autonomie dans la prise de décision a rendu la stabilité à Ifriqiya. C’est un âge d’or similaire à la Pax Romana. La grande mosquée a été reconstruite et se leva au rang d’une université vénérée par les orientaux et les occidentaux. Des gigantesques installations hydrauliques furent construites pour satisfaire le besoin d’eau potable à sa population et une ville princière   Vers le milieu du IXème siècle, la Sicile et l’Italie méridionale tombèrent sous le contrôle des Aghlabides. Ifriqiya se trouva encore le leader de l’Afrique du Nord.  

Vers 909 les descendants du prophète Mohamed et sa fille Fatma, les Fatimides, devinrent les nouveaux dirigeants du Maghreb. C’est la première monarchie Shiite dans l’histoire de l’Islam. Mahdia devint la capitale à fin de fuir les Sunnites qui se montraient hostiles vers les nouveaux dirigeants et le Shiisme. D’ailleurs les kharijites du sud Tunisien se révoltèrent contre eux vers 916. Les Kairouanais supportèrent les Fatimides et l’ordre se rétablis encore. Comme signe de reconnaissance ils fondèrent une ville princière « Sabra Mansouriya » avant de quitter vers leur nouvelle capitale le Caire En 974.

En quittant Ifriqiya, les Fatimides ont chargé les Zirides, tribus Berbère du Sahara au pouvoir. Ces derniers se tournèrent vers le sunnisme condamnèrent le Shiisme. Le calife Fatimide au Caire décida de les punir en envoyant les tribus barbares de Banu Hilal. Ils saccagèrent le pays et la capitale Kairouan tomba en ruine. Pour un siècle le pays se trouva sans autorité centrale. C’est sous les Almohades du Marrakech que le pays reconnu la stabilité. Mais Kairouan céda la place à Tunis.

Les nouveaux dirigeants du pays n’ont pas ignoré Kairouan. Les Hafsides du 13éme siècle et les ottomans à partir du 16éme siècle ont reconstruit la ville. D’ailleurs la plus part des monuments comme les mausolées des saints et les écoles coraniques datent du 15éme, 16éme et 17éme siècle. Les remparts furent reconstruits au 18éme siècle par les beys husseinite dont leur nom et mentionné dans les inscriptions situées au-dessus des portes.   

Aujourd’hui le site historique de Kairouan est fréquenté par les tunisiens et les étrangers. Ici, un compagnon « Sahabi » est inhumé depuis 634. Son mausolée est le plus visité en Tunisie. On dit souvent que six visites sont équivalentes à un pèlerinage à la Mecque. De plus le site abrite des monuments considérés comme uniques dans le monde musulmans. Notons la grande mosquée, les bassins des Aghlabides et la ville princière de Sabra Mansouriya.

Les visiteurs suivent un itinéraire bien précis. Il a été aménagé par la municipalité avec l’aide de l’institut du patrimoine.
Plan de Kairouan

En prenant un louage de Tunis, il est recommandé de s’arrêter devant le syndicat d’initiative. D’où on achète le ticket et le droit photo (8D droit d’entée et 1D droit de photo). Vous pouvez demander au chauffeur de vous déposer à coté du syndicat.
Apres le payement vous pouvez monter à la Terrace pour une vue des bassins des Aghlabides. Ces sont les plus grandes installations hydrauliques dans le monde musulmans. Il s’agit, selon les historiens médiévaux, d’un groupe de 14 ou 15 bassins circulaires dont les fouilleurs ont exhumés que deux. Chaque bassin est divisé en deux ; un petit bassin pour la décantions d’eau de pluie et des rivières qui entoure la plaine de Kairouan transportées par des aqueducs. Un grand bassin de réserve qui permet une deuxième purification des eaux avant la collection dans les citernes de puisages.  
Avant de quitter vous pouvez jeter un coup d’œil sur les bassins de prés. L’entrée se trouve prés des toilettes.

Apres 100m, on trouve le mausolée de Sidi Saheb. C’est un compagnon du prophète Mohamed enterré en 634 durant une expédition contre les Byzantins en terre de Tunisie. Pour 10 siècles, il était qu’une chambre surmontée par une coupole. Vers le XVIIIème siècle, le gouverneur ottoman a ordonné la construction d’un complexe dédié au compagnon du prophète. Il se compose d’un oratoire, une chambre funéraire abritant le catafalque du compagnon et des chambres d’hôtes pour les étudiants. Le monument……

La grande mosquée de Kairouan ou mosquée d’Ukba Ibn Nafi est la plus ancienne mosquée dans l’occident musulman. Elle est devenue un model pour les mosquées de Fez et Cordoue en Espagne. Le plan final date du 9éme siècle mais les dynasties ayant gouverné la Tunisie depuis le 10éme siècle ont pris soin de cette mosquée. En effet le carrelage en marbre a été ajouté par les beys Husseinite vers le milieu du 18éme siècle……

Avant le 13éme siècle, la grande mosquée occupait le centre de la médina. C’est avec les Hafsides du 13éme siècle que le centre fut déplacé vers son emplacement actuel. On peut commencer la visite à partir de la grande mosquée. D’abord on trouve les maisons privées qui occupent les ruelles jusqu’à atteindre la voix principale. La voix principale est le centre de la médina de Kairouan dont les ruelles ne sont que des voix secondaires occupées par les maisons et les différentes boutiques artisanales. A l’époque chaque ruelle avait sa propre spécialité, souk des babouches, souk des selliers……  Aujourd’hui ces souks gardent leurs noms malgré la disparition des activités d’origines.
Les écoles d’époques Hafsides et ottomanes se trouvent à l’entrée des souks secondaires. Notons l’école de Sidi Abid Ghariyani 15éme siècle, l’école hussaynite 18émé siècle….  

Quant au repas il est recommandé d’essayer le kafteji, c’est différent du kafteji tunisois. Le kafteji Kairouanais  est composé de piment, tomate et oignons. Le sandwich coute maximum 1.5DT. Les restaurants qui le servent se trouvent à l’intérieur de la médina. Si vous voulez un menu complet il y a des restaurants dont le budget ne dépasse pas 7DT.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tunisia By Henk Overberg

 It has been interesting to follow from afar as a disinterested but not uninterested observer the developments that have been taking place in Tunisia since the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, which sparked off the Arab Spring.   I have been fortunate to lead groups to visit Tunisia three times: twice prior to the revolution and once just before the recent elections.   We enjoyed all our visits to Tunisia, were made very welcome, and learnt a lot about people and country.  Within the time of our three visits, the country has certainly changed.

Two things that struck us especially were the changes in attitude: of the bureaucracy we came in contact with, and also of the people we met while travelling city and country.   We well remember how custom officials obstructed and delayed our arrival at Tunis Airport.  We had us wait for hours for no purpose, before they even started to think of issuing visas.  This upset our people greatly: we spent much time afterwards calming them.   Whenever we had to deal with officials we struck the same unfriendly attitude.  On our last visit officials and police had lightened up considerably, welcoming us with open arms, and were in general enthusiastic and helpful.   People we met on our pre-revolution visits were circumspect in their comments about officialdom. Where a comment was made they often mentioned frustration with the corruption of officials, unreasonable levels of taxation, restrictive rules of business, and the like.

Such attitudes had disappeared on our last visit early October 2011.   People had energy: they expressed hope that long established problems could be resolved and that a new future was dawning.   The hope was mixed with fear: hope that things might become better, but also fear that the old patterns might linger.   Much was expected of the forthcoming elections.

Looking at the situation from afar, it seems that the elections have had a positive effect on Tunisian society.   Moderate Islamists form the majority in government, and they are allied with centre-left groups: there seems to be no wish to establish an Islamist state.   A new constitution has been introduced.   The violence seen in Egypt, Libya and Syria has largely been avoided.
MR Henk Overberg in Matmata, Tunsian south east.
He is a senior lecturer in Deakin university Melbourne Australia

I think a number of factors have been at play here.   First, the old authorities, symbolized by ex-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, went quickly.   Second, there was little foreign interference, so that the proxy wars in Libya and Syria have been avoided.   Third, the army played a far less intrusive role in the transition than it has done in Egypt, which led to a greater public acceptance of transitional arrangements.   Fourth, Tunisian society is relatively homogeneous, and there has neither been the inter-tribal warfare that has so disfigured Libya, nor the Islamic-Christian confrontation that is complicating the situation in Syria.   Without wishing to trivialize the suffering of Tunisians during the revolution, the level of antagonism in Tunisia was lower to a degree than it has been in Egypt, Libya, and Syria.

Will it last?   There is a real chance that it will.   The West had hoped for a transition to a Western-style secular political establishment.   Given the situation in Tunisia before the revolution, that was never likely to happen.   The polity under President Ben Ali was secular, but its secularism was linked with deep-seated patronage which generated wide-scale corruption.   In this context a secular outcome of the revolution was too much to hope for.   Yet with a moderate Islamic government in charge there is hope for the future.   Some of the signs have been good.    First, relatively uncorrupted elections were held.   Second, the population has by and large accepted the outcome.   Third, a constitution with reasonable democratic safeguards has been put into place.   Fourth, the whole process of transformation has been achieved in a context of relative absence of violence.   The next elections will provide a further measure of the success of the revolution.   If the present government is returned, well and good.   If such elections point to a change of government, then it remains to be seen whether the present lot in power will relinquish power without violence or corruption.   If such is the case, then Tunisia may well feel that a new future has dawned.