April 1, 2002 - Washington Report on Middle East Affairs: Tunisia RPCV Dr. Laurence Michalak Discusses Tunisia

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Tunisia: Peace Corps Tunisia : The Peace Corps in Tunisia: April 1, 2002 - Washington Report on Middle East Affairs: Tunisia RPCV Dr. Laurence Michalak Discusses Tunisia

By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, January 28, 2003 - 2:12 pm: Edit Post

Tunisia RPCV Dr. Laurence Michalak Discusses Tunisia

Tunisia RPCV Dr. Laurence Michalak Discusses Tunisia

Dr. Laurence Michalak Discusses Tunisia

“Tunisia, a small seahorse-shaped country located on the coast of North Africa, is a relatively prosperous, peaceful and stable country,” Dr. Laurence Michalak told the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Jan. 25. Michalak, vice chair of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, worked in Tunisia as a member of the Peace Corps in the late 1960s and recently returned for a visit.

One factor contributing to the country’s stability is its homogeneous population, Michalak said, with 99 percent of Tunisia’s 10 million citizens being Sunni Arab Muslim. Tunisia has a large middle class, he noted, and poverty has been virtually eliminated. Education is a top priority, he added, and presently more women than men are enrolled in universities. A fiscally well-managed country, Michalak said, Tunisia has a high rating from the International Monetary Fund. On the downside, he told the audience, unemployment is high and development of the northwest and interior areas of the country has been neglected in lieu of the more populated coastal region.

Michalak discussed three prominent figures in Tunisia’s modern history. He described Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia’s first president after the country’s independence from France in 1956, as a forward-looking pragmatist whose policies—a mixture of socialism and capitalism—were popular and successful.

In 1987, Michalak continued, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, a progressive in the tradition of Bourguiba, became president. Presently serving his third term, a constitutional amendment is required in order for him to run for a fourth term. Although the move is controversial, Michalak predicted the constitution would be amended and that Ben Ali will run in 2004.

The third figure Michalak discussed was Rachid Ghannouchi, exiled leader of the Tunisian Islamist party, Hizb an-Nahda, or Renaissance Party. A respected Islamist writer/activist/scholar, Michalak said, Ghannouchi was imprisoned by Bourguiba after a crackdown on Islamists following the 1979 Iranian Revolution and now lives in Great Britain.

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