The facts are these: Tunisia is in a bit of a funk. Last week the former Interior Minister made a snide but serious jibe about an imminent military coup. After hundreds of protesters took to the streets amid clouds of tear gas, the interim government responded by announcing the possible deferment of the all-important constitutional election in July. The purported reason for the delay is “logistical problems.” Unfortunately, everybody knows that the main “logistical” problem is that the Islamic party is currently favored to win the election. In fact, that very probability was the impetus for the former Minister’s joke/threat in the first place.
On top of that, the economy is understandably floundering. Things in general are not quite functioning in tip-top condition. (I have to ask myself, is Ben Ali’s unsteadying absence the reason that my new internet company appears to be also on strike, and as I write this I’m consequently doped up again on secondhand hubbly bubbly smoke in my favorite internet cafe? Who knows. But I still say, “long live the revolution!”) The crucial tourist industry is also down, with no real prospect of a miraculous recovery before the July/August high season. After all, the terrorist attack in neighboring Morocco, the ongoing war in Libya, which keeps spilling alarmingly over the Tunisian border, and the general chaos in the region at large, make Tunisia a bit unbelievable as an idyllic beach vacation spot.
Enter our new Parisian friends, Claude and Marie-Henri. We met them on the beach on Saturday. As they walked toward us, I noticed that his satchel sported a large handwritten (and laminated) placard. At first, I assumed that it must say something like, “No thank you, I don’t want any shell necklaces, peanuts, camel rides, traditional pottery, or melons.” I’ve considered wearing a placard like that to the beach myself. But Claude’s placard was more socially responsible. It was an impassioned plea, in French, for expatriate Tunisians to come back and help their country. He had been wearing it around in Paris before he came on vacation to Tunisia. In fact, he and his wife had come to Tunisia with a mission. They had spent the past week discussing the revolution with Tunisians. Claude showed us a petition they had brought, to which he had succeeded in appending numerous Tunisian signatures. The petition was addressed to the mayor of Paris, who is apparently of Tunisian extraction. It invited him to leave France and return to his native country to rebuild and carry things forward after the revolution.
It’s a great idea. Tunisia could use a few native sons and daughters with some practical know-how about democratic societies. I can think of no better time for successful expatriate Tunisians to return to their homeland and contribute their experience to a beautiful but fragile new democracy. “The quest,” as Galadriel would put it, “hangs on the edge of a knife. Stray but a little, and it will fail, to the ruin of all.” An infusion of patriotic and civic-minded returning exiles bringing home what they have learned and acquired abroad could have a far-reaching effect. In fact, it might well determine whether Tunisia joins the free world as a mature and open society, or falls back to languish in the re-gathering dust of despotism.
Since we weren’t Tunisian, we were not invited to sign Claude’s petition. However, he had uses for us too. The Tunisia crusade over, he’ll start work on his next mission: convincing Barak Obama that when he’s done being president of the United States, he should journey back to his father’s home in Kenya and become president there.