Treasure Hunting
Tour de Force
Studio Zeitgeist
Farid's Pearls of Wisdom

Treasure Hunting


Shackled Tiger of the Mediteranian

November 8th 2014

They call it ‘The pregnant oyster’, the somewhat dated Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin not far from the Bundeskanzleramt which, in a few decades will turn out to be just as dated. To me it is valiant seventies architecture, just like me.

This is actually not right. The Haus was already finished in the fifties. I hope that I will also be ahead of my time: I’m a trend watcher after all. Tomorrow I get to speak at this peculiar building. I will introduce Martin Schulz, chair of the European Parliament who will deliver his speech for Europe there. Since 2010 the Stiftung Zukunft Berlin organizes this yearly event. The speakers at previous editions were Herman van Rompuy and Barroso. These are no minions, if you love Europe.

And let me be clear, I love Europe. The celebration anno 2014 is all the more festive because a quarter-century ago, in 1989, the Wall came down. I hope Martin Schulz listens intently during my introduction.

On November 9 Europe celebrates the end of the Cold War. At the Tabarki home we also celebrate the fact that my father arrived in the Netherlands from Tunisia, exactly fourty years ago.

At the start of the seventies the leader of his homeland, Habib Bourguiba, began to display more and more autocratic traits. My father was politically active which unfortunately was not to be recommended under the dictatorial constellation. He was told in no uncertain terms that he was no longer welcome in his native country.

Like many revolutionaries, Bourguiba’s start was hopeful. After shedding the French colonial yoke in 1956 he created a constitution that safeguarded the rights of Tunisian women. He prohibited polygamy, while most Arabic countries allow it, and he legalised divorce. To emphasise his blasphemy he drank orange juice on national television during Ramadan. The message was clear: believe if you want to, but work goes on.

In the seventies Bourguiba takes a turn for the worse. His arrows are aimed on the left. The United States, then a loyal ally, would have had no problem with his hunt for the communists and other red dangers. Rashid al-Ghannouchi, who is the leader of the Ennahda movement to this day, was imprisoned. After years of exile in London, he only returned three years ago.

In December 2010 street trader Mohammed Bouazizi torched himself in Sidi Bouzid because he could no longer stand the humiliation. Anno 2014 Tunisia has become, partly because of him, the poster child of the Arab spring: THE example of a successful democratic change on a continent dominated by autocracy. Libya and Syria are getting badly out of hand and in Egypt the same old clique is wielding its power like it always has.

On the other hand things in Tunisia went better. Two weeks ago the first truly democratic elections took place in that cradle of the revolution. It even delivered a secular party as the winner. I admit: a bunch of veterans from the previous regime are partly in charge at that party and the Islamists came second in those same elections. But no party holds the absolute majority and given Bourguiba’s history that is probably not a bad thing.

In Europe, in the mean time, we celebrate the fall of the Wall twenty-five years ago. It was the first swallow that, contrary to the saying, did most certainly make a summer.

In Tunisia, despite the generally agreeable climate, the real summer is still a long way off. A recent World Bank report rightly qualified Tunisia as the potential tiger of the Mediterranean that still has to make good on his promise. Europe especially can help this still shackled tiger break free. Our continent would do well to receive the olives and textiles as well as the appetite for revolution with open arms. This begins with opening up our market. If we manage to economically integrate the countries east and south of Europe, we gain 250 million consumers. I’m sure you’ll have no problem with that.

And now winter has announced itself, you’ll probably have use for some sun. Only €160 flies you to the country of Dido and Hannibal. You’ll do yourselves and the Tunisians a big favour.

back <