Tunis: Medieval souqs and 21st Century Politics

Only two hours from Paris by plane, Tunis is a city of ancient Roman ruins, chaotic Middle Eastern markets and grand French boulevards. At times, Tunis can feel like any other large European city, with modern technology companies sprouting out of new developments on the outskirts, with freeways and trolly lines criss crossing the city. Yet sometimes, between the last call to prayer and the sip of a hot mint tea in an ancient cafe, it feels distinctly North African. Tunis is not only compelling for visitors with of its assault on the senses, it is also the scene of some of the most important moments in 21st century politics and history.

Tunisia was the first and, so far, only successful democratic revolution to come out of the Arab Spring. After decades of dictatorship, young Tunisians brought down the regime and are now in the process of building a new, democratic Tunisia. However the direction of the country is yet to be determined. In the dusty coffee shops and cafes of the medieval medina, locals argue over the pros and cons of democracy, dictatorship and Islam. Did the stability of the dictatorship help keep unemployment low? Did the revolution give power to Islamist groups? And if so, what does that mean for Tunisia’s liberal and secular youth? One would be hard pressed to find another city in the world where these different world views are being so openly discussed.

By Walker Dawson