‘After the revolution we thought all the young people will have jobs. But it’s just the same.’ exhaled Walid. We walked on through the dunes, Walid barefoot, wearily leading the camels, our happy band of trekkers following. 100km across a sandy finger of the Sahara’s Grand Erg Oriental lay our destination, the fort and oasis of Ksar Ghilaine – a popular tourist route for dilettante desert explorers.
Tunisia’s 2011 ‘Jasmine Revolution’, the first popular uprising of the ‘Arab Spring’, saw a coalition led by the previously banned Ennahda (Renaissance Party) take power. However, for many educated young Tunisians the new Islamic government has yet to deliver. ‘What is happening in Tunis now, it’s just the Islamic who find jobs, mostly in the government,’ continued Walid. As in other Arab countries the secular youth, those best educated, most connected and a primary catalyst for change appear to feel sidelined. ‘My mother, my father, they pray. Not me. I do believe, but it’s in the background,’ Walid sucked in air through his teeth, looking at me questioningly. ‘OK, so not fight, not kill but people should be able to do what they want, that’s freedom,’ he concluded.
Tunisia’s economy is not all dates, pottery and tourism. Petroleum, hi-tech computer components, parts for Airbus aircraft and vehicle manufacturing, all contribute to a varied GDP. However, in a global downturn jobs are hard to find. ‘I graduated in IT four years ago,’ says Walid in disbelief. ‘Mostly I’m worried that if I keep doing this,’ tossing a look over his shoulder at the camels, ‘I’ll forget my job. Things will have moved on.’
A common escape path favoured by disillusioned young people the world over is to marry a foreigner. However, for Walid this is a step too far. ‘You know there are more than one million Tunisians in France. It’s difficult to go legally. Maybe marry a French woman, but I have 25-years and only the older ones are interested… I have a friend who has done this. When he visits with his wife I say to him in Arabic, “Why are you with this woman?” He says he loves her. Come on… It’s not for me. Maybe later. Who knows?’
Almost exactly 70 years ago Winston Churchill described the first Allied victory in North Africa as ‘not the end… not even the beginning of the end but… perhaps the end of the beginning.’ Maybe in time history will look upon Tunisia’s revolution and those others in the Arab world in a similar light.
This week’s eye-catching links, in no particular order:-
- If you’re intrigued by a desert experience, Exodus’s Sahara Desert Trek is to be recommended. You’ll need to be reasonably fit, not too attached to such tissued fripperies as soft beds and personal hygiene, and not allergic to sand or camels. A penchant for couscous, though not essential, is an advantage. Here’s the link – http://www.exodus.co.uk/holidays/tmu/overview
- Railsavers (http://www.railsavers.com) is offering motorail services from Den Bosch, close to the Dutch/Belgium border, to Koper, Slovenia (not far from Trieste, in Italy) next summer. If you can be flexible on dates there are some real bargains on this new route, as well as on existing services to Alessandria and Livorno in Italy.
- Red line – Choppy seas ahead as China makes enhanced claims for national territorial waters… Not satisfied by re-writing the history books China seems determined to redraw the maps – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13748349
- I left Haiti 6th December 2009 having researched a magazine and newspaper travel commission. The 12th January earthquake tossed those stories onto a spike, whilst in Haiti any aspirations for a tourism renaissance were lost amongst the dust and rubble. Three years on Paul Clammer’s new guidebook provides an up-to-date vision of a Haiti, a destination that whilst challenging, is again one of the Caribbean’s most rewarding for adventurous travellers. Here are some extracts from Haiti http://www.bradtguides.com/extracts-haiti.html