Letter from Tunisia

Roar runs a periodic feature, “Letter From Tunisia,” written by Kemal Benyounes. Kemal is a dual citizen of the United States and Tunisia, is Muslim, blind, and lives in Tunis.  He offers a unique perspective on life in the mideast, the 2016 election of Trump as well as the Arab Spring and ongoing conflicts.  (Revolts recently led to a transition to a constitutional democracy in Tunisia.)

Dear Readers,

Another month has gone by and time for the latest letter from our dear illustrious Arab country. There seems to be, here, a growing sense of unease. The economy is moribund more or less and inflation is taking its toll on the cost of living as well of course as living standards.

There is growing discontent with the performance, or lack thereof, of the current government. In the legislative assembly, plans were put forward to deal with the economic crisis and have gotten nowhere. The multitude of political parties all has their agendas and programs and so naturally, there is grid-lock here. This is a state of affairs with which followers of the American government are quite familiar.

Of course, the rise of the reactionary right or in this case Islamic Fundamentalist parties is making itself felt, here, once again. Because the state of the government is decidedly weak, the Islamic party is feeling like they can make a move to regain control of the government they lost through incompetence in 2014. They have begun by removing a progressive minister of education. The aims here are two fold. They wish to institute an Islamic based curriculum. The other is to assert their political power and lay the ground work for taking back the Presidency in 2019. What is needed among other things is an educational system that concentrates on developing analytical skills as well as the basics; reading, writing, and Arithmetic. Problem solving skills must be taught and less emphasis on what some phantom Bronze Age sky wizard thinks. The other is more power oriented and to flex their muscles and re assert themselves as a force in Tunisian politics.

Many of us here are worried that the instability of the government could signal an uptick in terrorism. There is unrest in many parts of Tunisia. Demonstrations and riots for jobs and governmental assistance to alleviate the dire economic conditions have increased: Especially, in the south and Central portions of the country.

The prospects for further problems are increasing. The tilt to a more nationalist outlook by many of the international countries does not lend to optimism of further outside assistance. The only thing that gives hope, a: at the moment in forestalling a much deeper economic crisis is that there is a prospect of more foreign investment and a gradual revival of the Tourism industry. Tunisia’s most important industry.

Another cause for concern is the heat and lack of rain here. Tunisia is primarily an agrarian country. So, a potential drought would be disastrous. I do not know for sure but I think climate change has had a very negative effect on Tunisia. As it has effected many countries in this region. Should this condition persist we could be looking at food and water shortages. This would further destabilize an already precarious condition.

The major problem with a potential tilt toward a more Islamist government is this. These people are only interested in power and moving the country back to the middle ages and they do not have the competence to address modern day problems. Their only solution to anything is more religion and therefore more repression of women and other already oppressed minorities. In essence substitute right wing for Islamic government and you have the problem facing other European states and the United States.

This is no time to draw inwards and ignore the voices of those who are powerless and suffering. We need to bring in as many people from as diverse sectors of society as possible to solve problems. Repressing dissenting voices will only make things worse. We must look to expand economic opportunity for everyone and not just the rich. This is the only way to resolve many of the world’s problems and it goes without saying Tunisia’s as well. President Kennedy once said that “if we can’t help the many who are poor. We can’t save the few who are rich”.

The educational system worldwide must be strengthened, broadened, and deepened. Without an aware world populace, our slide into oblivion is only going to continue and accelerate.

So, until next month: take care and see you all then


Kemal Benyounes

PS. I had to add this to express my outrage at the vote taken in the U. S. House to deny working people health insurance. The jihadist group so called ISIS at the height of its ascendency was actually providing health care to all of its adherents. That an otherwise awful, murderous group to do this and the Republican party to take Health care away from its own people should say all that needs to be said about the morality of the Republicans. I hope and pray that the American people will throw out these awful, awful people and soon.

Kemal Benyounces is a 51-year-old, blind, duel citizen living in Tunisia. He graduated from Towson State University with a BS in Political Science and History. He moved to Tunisia to have better support for his disability. Kemal is married with two children. Kemal can be reached at: kemalbenyounes@gmail.com.

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