Saturday, October 16, 2010

Part II - A Brush with Disaster in Tunisia

Our introduction to Africa was not too propitious. Overall though, the day blended quite easily into the rest of the trip and thus passed with little notice. Having had our cab driver disappear for a nooner or whatever in the middle of downtown Tunis, when he finally reappeared his stunt driving efforts to get back on schedule ended with his cab totaled and us marooned in the middle of a freeway. When, finally we were rescued, the poor guy was
slumped against his wreck repeatedly mumbling "De firsta accidenta in thirty years".
By this time we were really late. The replacement cab and driver eventually arrived and he did his level best to complete the itinerary but, when we arrived back at the dock entrance, we discovered he was not authorized to enter so we had to leg it back to the ship. About halfway there the local MSC Cruise Line Agent screeched to a halt beside us, motioned for us to get in and fairly flew to the quay. Here, the last gangway was being hauled on board and the ship was about to leave. Abandoned in North Africa was a fate we were grateful to miss.

The Tunisian Republic is about the size of Washington state with a population of about 10.3 million - 1-1/2 times that of Washington state - and is both the smallest nation along the Atlas Mountain range and the northernmost country in Africa.
It is an Arab country bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. With its name is derived from the capital Tunis, located in the north-east, the south of the country is part of the Sahara desert while the remainder is mainly fertile soil. It boasts nearly 800 miles of coastline.
This combination of arable land close to the coastline has played a prominent role throughout recorded history. First was the famous Phoenician city of Carthage, then came the Africa Province known as the "bread basket" of the Roman Empire. Later, during the 5th century CE, the area was occupied first by Vandals, then Byzantines in the 6th century and Arabs in the 8th century before being subjugated by the

Ottomans at which point it became the "Regency of Tunis". The Ottomans were driven out as the European scrambled to confirm their Empires in the 19th century, becoming a French protectorate in 1881.
Finally, after obtaining independence in 1956, the country took the name of the "Kingdom of Tunisia" until the end of the reign of Lamine Bey and the Husainid Dynasty. With the proclamation of the Tunisian Republic on July 25, 1957, the nationalist leader Habib Bourguiba became its first president and the modernization of the country began.

Today Tunisia is an export-oriented country, in the process of liberalizing its economy under an authoritarian regime controlled by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and masquerading as a procedural democracy. Ben Ali has governed as President since 1987 and has systematically diminished freedom of press and political pluralism while maintaining the charade of democratic elections.
In the September 2009 election his share of the vote fell to its lowest ever at, 89.4%, mainly because he allowed an opposition party on the ballot. If the opposition candidate had not been jailed during the run up to the election or had been allowed to give speeches or organize gatherings, it's possible he could have done even better than his 5% share, but that's just speculation! Pictures of the tour are here.

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