We are getting ready for a trip to Tunisia in early May. We will be going with a group, led by a tour guide who specializes in tours of Tunisia for Jewish groups. We have met twice with the guide, who is an American, who has assured us that Tunisia is a very special place for a Muslim Arab country, a place of relative prosperity, joie de vivre, and tolerance. I wouldn’t say that I took what he said with a grain of salt, but I was certainly intrigued when he described Tunisia as a mid-East country that worked quite well.
Last week, much to my surprise, I came across a book by journalist Georgie Anne Geyer, published in England in 2003, called, simply, “Tunisia: a Journey Through a Country that Works”. Lo and behold, Geyer’s book repeated much of what our guide had told us.
Saying that Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia’s first post-colonial leader, and his successor Zine Ben Ali, had chosen to lead Tunisia away from radical religious law and sentiment, and, perhaps following the path of Turkey, to create a working society that provided to all of its residents, Muslim, Christian or Jewish, male or female, equal treatment and equal rights, and that had economic progress and political tolerance as central principles (barring religious or ideological extremists from subverting the democratic process for their own benefit).
As we travel in Tunis, and see the ruins of Carthage and various Roman cities, and as we see the Jewish community on the Island of Djerba, it will be interesting to see how all this works. Of course, as Geyer does make clear, everything is fragile, and there have been instances where the Tunisian model has been internally threatened. But so far, it has held. I assume it will be in May as it is now in January.