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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Tunisia after Bardo Attack - The Story unlike the News

Published at Your Middle East and WELDD

On March 18, Tunisia witnessed an attack on the Bardo Museum in the heart of the capital city, Tunis, next door to the Parliament.

Suddenly, international media was disseminating misinformed news about the situation in Tunisia, promoting an image of “terrorism” and “Jihadism” taking over the country, “destroying its economy”, and “threating its democracy”. It is actually not the attack that will affect our economy and tourism but it's the narrative mainstream media propagates at all times.

THE HEADLINES have been as dramatic as “In Tunisia, terror attack undercuts Arab Spring's best prospect”, or “Travelers warned of risks as Tunisia reels from attack”, ignoring that we have had at least 20,000 foreign visitors entering the country after the Bardo attack, and as lame and wrongful as “Tunisian town near 'Star Wars' backdrop now features in battle against ISIS”, ignoring that Les Dunes Electroniques, one of Tunisia's biggest musical festivals have taken place on the set of Star Wars just a few weeks ago, on February 21 when over 10,000 people attended. 

There is another story that has to be told not only by us, Tunisians, who obviously would encourage people to visit our homeland, but also through the testimonies of foreign visitors who have themselves experienced the beauty, safety, and hospitality of Tunisia.

I have interviewed visitors from Europe, Africa and America following the Bardo Attack. They have all stressed the difference of the narrative the media represents for Tunisia and what is actually on the ground: 

From Belgium, Hilario Palomeque said: “The news were putting over and over the videos of the attacks and I decided actually to avoid watching that because it creates an image of Tunisia which is not real.” He added, “I came in solidarity…as a response to violence it’s important to maintain this presence because it’s the best answer to violence.”

FROM BRAZIL, Janaina Plessmann, who arrived just a day before the attack happened, said: “It’s my first time in Tunisia. I felt very fortunate to have the opportunity of meeting all the amazing Tunisian people I was meeting on that day. I was not really feeling anything related to any danger…or any fear even on that day.” She continued: “I was trying to share with people that I was feeling very secure and safe here, the country and the people are amazing… and what happened has nothing to do with any kind of nationality or religion...”
At the end Janaina made a request: “Please come and visit this very beautiful country to enjoy, I’m sure you will be surprised!”

Edna Bonhomme from New York has been in Tunisia for the past two months, she said: “Tunisia for me has been a very warm open, and compassionate space. People have been very willing to take me to their homes to visit small towns, places like le Kef and Kasserine.” As a black woman she said she would not have “that kind of hospitality in small towns in the United States where I’m from.” Edna admires Tunisia and she encourages everybody to visit: “I personally learnt a lot by being here.”

From NIGERIA, Adebayo Waifi Gbenro came despite the attack to show African solidarity, he said: “to tell everyone in the world that we are not terrorists… we’re not bad people and all we need to do is for them to get a story from our own perspective, not a foreign perspective…”

These are a few testimonies among over 20,000 visitors who entered Tunisia after the Bardo Attack. That’s by itself a strong message of the world’s solidarity and Tunisia’s firm stand against all forms of violence.

#Visit_Tunisia #IloveTunisia #ProudlyTunisia #SomeoneTellCNN

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Aya Chebbi: From Tunisia’s revolution to global activist

My profile by Eric Reidyas part of a series that started at the International Women Day.
Sitting under a breezy tent on the second day of the 2015 World Social Forum, which took place in Tunis from 24 to 28 March, Aya Chebbi shifted in her seat with an animated intensity. The 26-year-old Tunisian activist and blogger was listening to four middle-aged panelists discuss the necessity for NGOs and social movements to listen to marginalized voices to build their goals around people’s real needs. Read More

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Rethinking Regional Security through Africa's Economic Integration

In 2013, I was shooting a documentary called “Kenya’s Conscious Transformation” under the Africa Inspire Project, when Kenya witnessed the Westgate attack. At least 67 people have died.

Following the peaceful 2013 general elections, I decided to explore and highlight the role of youth and women in the peace process that transformed its previous 2007/2008 volatile post-election violence. On my last day in Nairobi, a few hours before heading to the Westgate shopping mall, I heard about the Al Shabab attack. It was a tragic and sad day, waiting for the fate of the hostages and praying for the victims.

Two weeks ago, Tunisia has also witnessed an attack on the Bardo Museum in the heart of the capital city, Tunis, next door to the Parliament. I had then experienced the same saddening feeling.

International media, as usual, don’t help much in such events, especially when it happens in Africa but the headlines make it actually worse. The headlines have been as dramatic as “Tunisia's tourism fights for survival”, ignoring that we have had at least 20.000 foreign visiters entering Tunisia after Bardo attack, and as lame and wrongful as “Tunisian town near 'Star Wars' backdrop now features in battle against ISIS” ignoring that Les Dunes Electroniques, one of Tunisia's biggest festivals have taken place on the set of star wars just few weeks ago on 21 February where over 10.000 people attended. I remembered then, during my interviews in Kenya, the youth telling me about their campaign on Twitter #SomoneTellCNN and #CNNApologise.

The Kenyan online community reacted with harsh criticism to CNN’s reports of the grenade blasts in Nairobi. The news network reported on the story with footage from 2007-08, giving the impression that violence had erupted all over the country.

Like Kenya, Tunisia had its fair share of CNN misinformed disseminated news. Though we are all witnessing equal tragedies of non-state actors’ crimes, the coverage is, for instance, different from the Charlie Hebdo attack with a Western perspective.

However, what we need to actually reflect on is the relationship between regional economic integration and regional security, which shall depend on the nature of the security threats that defines the region.

In Africa, we are yet to boost the economic integration, while we are witnessing the rise of armed attacks. Why can’t we yet secure the flow of goods but control the flow of arms? Following Libya’s war, the Mali conflict, the Amenas hostage crisis and other security threats, cross-border terrorism and arms smuggling are on the rise. Transitional politics and fragile stability are impeding policy-makers from drafting lasting and coordinated frameworks to combat this. The impact and leverage of armed attacks will continue to affect African countries transnationally.

However, the over-stated threat of terrorism is far from feeding exclusively on economic and social grievances or the democratization process. It is as much the creation of states’ quest for internal regime stability, as the result of their own incapacity to effectively collectively address the security vacuum in different countries (for example, northeastern Mauritania, southwestern Algeria, northern Mali, and Niger).

Some argue that regional economic cooperation will foster insecurity rather than security. Besides, building a viable intra or inter-regional cooperation is a challenging proposition because of post-colonial African states and governance. However, I think this situation ushers in a much more fluid context, affording fresh windows of opportunity for these extremist groups to exploit divisions, and further its agenda.

Building regional economic integration is still centered primarily on security considerations. As African states, we are increasingly concerned with security risks generated by our neighbors arising from poor governance that might cause cross-border instability. These problems highlight that regional economic integration ought to be primarily inter-governmental with a minimum of supra-national aspirations.

I think we need to:
  • Develop a strategic vision. A critical factor in developing an enabling environment for regional economic integration is whether governments have the necessary leadership to push economic integration. Despite Europe’s recession, the reflexive response in North Africa is to continue to look northward to Europe for economic relations. At the same time, the focus on regional neighbors is often limited to purely security-related concerns.
  • Governments in the region need to think more strategically about the benefits of building closer economic ties with our neighbors. Investing in border regions could prompt greater economic growth and improve security conditions. Good governance and clear investment codes are essential components for that.
  • Promote a strong business environment is a necessary component of a broader enabling environment.
All in all, we need to identify potential growth points and then connect with each other beyond security dilemmas.  

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

My Media Profiles

April 2015- Middle East Eye

My profile by Eric Reidyas part of a series that started at the International Women Day.
Aya Chebbi: From Tunisia’s revolution to global activist . Sitting under a breezy tent on the second day of the 2015 World Social Forum, which took place in Tunis from 24 to 28 March, Aya Chebbi shifted in her seat with an animated intensity. The 26-year-old Tunisian activist and blogger was listening to four middle-aged panelists discuss the necessity for NGOs and social movements to listen to marginalized voices to build their goals around people’s real needs. Read More

April 2015- Super Girl of the Month by Girl Pride Circle

Featured as Super Girl of the Month. Also published on Youth Blog
Aya's story is that of a bold and daring super girl, with a rare zeal for undiluted activism. Read More.
Our warm congratulation to you for every steps that you take towards positive changes in the society, we really know that it is hard and challenging but you never tired. We the youth are proud of you and wish you all the best in whatever way you go and initiatives you take. Read More

 March 2015- Deutsche Welle

 My Profile at DW
   Aya is deeply concerned about the kind of world      today’s children and young people will face in the    future, and about strengthening the democratic  structures in her homeland. Aya is “Proudly Tunisian”  – as she calls her blog. Read More 

December 2013- Taking on the Giant

My profile as One of Tunisia’s Most Promising Female Leaders
Her blog has managed to get tens of thousands of visitors from around the world. Aya confesses that her goal was never to have a successful blog, but one that engages people. Read More

December 2014- African Role Model by Ignite the Youth
My Profile as the African Role Model
What immediately stands out about Aya is her undeniable loyalty to her nation - The Republic of Tunisia. This young African beats her chest for Tunisia, cries for Tunisia and would undoubtedly bleed for Tunisia! Her national patriotism is so immense, it beams from within her in a manner that says "I have no shame in who I am and where I come from!" Indeed, she is unashamed and publicly announces that she is "Proudly Tunisian" Read More

January 2014- AfroElle Magazine
Featured on the Magazine Rebirth Issue about New Generation Leaders

November 2013- Daily Mavrick
My profile interview as part of the series on the Voices of Young Africans by Khadija Patel

As part of a new Daily Maverick series profiling young, African leaders, we sat down with Aya Chebbi, a Tunisian blogger and activist. She is the kind of young person that inspires hope in humanity, a 'doer', an active participant in the society she has grown up in. And still she is warm, insightful, humble. Just don’t use the phrase “Arab Spring” around her. Read More

February 2013 - ELLE Belgique Magazine
Tunisie, Ou Vont Les Femmes?
Céline Gautier interviewed me for the Belgian Magazine ELLE Belgique. It is a women magazine but mainly featuring pop culture, life & love, hair & beauty, accessories, shops etc... The interview was about women's rights in Tunisia and the ruling Islamic party Ennahda. Celine also captured my attention with the same comment as Fiona : " I'll make you some questions  in order for me to understand better what's happening now in Tunisia regarding women's rights. As the Europeans have a lot of misinformation, I'll ask you to give us some facts and not only feelings or thoughts"

December 2012- Madison Magazine
After the Revolution Tales
Fiona MacDonald wrote this article on the Australian Magazine Madison about stories of women in the Arab Uprising what she called "After the Revolution". She interviewed women from Egypt, Libya, Syria and Tunisia including myself. Fiona said when she first contacted me and explained the message behind her article: " women have played a crucial role in the revolutions but many Australians don’t know much about what’s been happening (other than what they see on the news) and how empowered the Arab women are". I am proud of her final piece which had I guess a positive reaction worldwide and I hope also in Australia.

The interview was also published at the Intentious
September 2012- Inspirational Friday
 My Profile as the Hyper  Volunteer
  She is 25 but don’t be fooled by her youth.  Aya Chebbi is a serial traveller, blogger, and  volunteer, she started her own NGO, while  pursuing several academic careers  (dropping out some, picking up others). Oh,  and she has one or two (more likely twenty)  ideas that she would like to turn into  organisations and projects to help make her  country and the world a better place. Want  more? She is also a very enthusiastic talker  with a bright personality and a huge smile.  Her enthusiasm is hard to resist. Let the  Aya wave take you through revolutionary  times and global adventures.  Read More

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

My Speech at UN Women’s celebratory event for the 20th anniversary of the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing

Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality, celebratory commemoration brings together top political actors, celebrities with musical performances, high-powered speakers and celebrities including President of Liberia Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Academy Award-winning actress Patricia Arquette, Mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio, global philanthropist Melinda Gates, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and actor-director from India Farhan Akhtar, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and luminaries from politics, the arts, activism and philanthropy.#‎IWD2015 ‪#‎Beijing20‬ 

I had the honor to be invited to be the voice of the youth and speak among these strong women. My intervention is below :

My speech was published at WLUMLAWID A World At School, New Story Hub
Quoted among the 12 powerful quotes of this year UN Commission on the Status of Women 

Honoured Guests,
Marhaba as we greet in Arabic.

I come from a region that is considered the most dangerous in the world; yet, in Tunisia we have successfully achieved considerable milestones in democracy and stability.

In 2010, we revolted for dignity and freedom.  We were the spark of an uprising the world propagated as the Arab Spring.  But we call it “the revolution of Dignity”. Young women like me took to the streets, unafraid to die.  When I reflect on the past 4 years, I recognize the boldness of my generation to shape our destiny and that of future generations.

But who was behind our victory? It was the Tunisian people including Tunisian women who chose to be part of History…  the history that had been steered towards depriving women equal opportunities and marginalizing the youth.  We decided to re-write this history and make it right for the generations to come. 

But there still are challenges.   In Egypt, virginity tests are performed on female ‘protest’ detainees, a humiliating and terrorizing practice. In Syria, over 15,000 women have been killed by the Syrian regime to date and over 8,000 others subjected to sexual violence. 

However, this is not our first struggle… it’s not our first victory. Women where I come from have been fighting patriarchy for more than a century, fighting for social change, equality and democracy for decades.

So, the world must respect our right to define our own struggles, in our own contexts, a context that has been affected by post-colonialism, Orientalism and Islamophobia.

Through the efforts and sacrifice of young women, our mark upon dignity and equality shall not go unrecognized; our experiences shall not go unnoticed.

Article 46 of Tunisia’s Constitution stands as an embodiment of the gains we have attained as women through civil action. We have conquered repressive laws and set our country upon the transformative values of equality and dignity.

Our generation of feminist movements in Africa and the Middle East, in conflict zones, and all parts of the world going through hard times, shall continue to be in the frontline. Even when we are set backward… even when many of our counterparts have fallen… we must set our countries upon a constitutional path of maturation and societal awareness of gender equality. Let’s continue the flight.

Thank you

I have also been a panelist speaker at ECOSOC on the 13th and was quoted at All Africa , UN News , The Daily BlogUNYouth, AEYCO, OccupyWorld, Youth Post and WomenNC blog
My intervention at ECOSOC Panel on Intergenerational Dialogue is here at 3.13 mins and quoted here  


Monday, March 9, 2015

Revolution Tourism

Published at D+C German Magazine 

Tourism is an important pillar of Tunisia’s economy, but it has been declining because of revolutionary turmoil in recent years. Unlike in other North African countries, the transition to democracy has been successful. Job creation must now underpin the new constitutional order. The new government should devise a strategy to attract visitors to the country.
The National Geographic recently put Tunisia on the list of the “top destinations of 2015”. It was also the “country of the year 2014”, according to The Economist. These are great achievements for a country that has gone through a revolution, a  democratic transition and four parliamentary and presidential elections in four years.
One must bear in mind, moreover, that Tunisia is facing huge economic and security issues. Both affect tourism, which has long been a vital sector of the national economy. Positive coverage in international magazines can prove quite helpful in this context. 
Tourism has long offered Tunisia opportunities. In the year 2010, the sector accounted for seven percent of GDP and more than 20 % of Tunisia’s revenues in foreign currencies. Tourists spent so much money in the country, that they plugged  56 % of its trade deficit. Moreover, the tourism industry employed about 85,000 people and indirectly kept another 315,000 in their jobs. Some 14 million visitors came to Tunisia in 2010, and the industry generated revenues worth $ 12.5 billion.
Among Tunisia’s tourist attractions are its cosmopolitan capital city of Tunis, the ancient ruins of Carthage, the Muslim and Jewish quarters of Djerba and many beach resorts. About 95 % of the hotel beds are near the eastern coast. Europeans appreciate the country as a sunny summer getaway. Tunisia benefits from its location on the Mediterranean Sea.
Tourism money matters to the hotel, airline, restaurant and retail-shopping industries. Tourists mean jobs for tour operators, drivers, porters, guides at cultural and nature sights, travel agents, market traders and others. The sector provides opportunities to entrepreneurs and allows other industries to grow.

Tunisia’s tourism has encountered numerous devastating obstacles in recent years however. Tourist numbers dropped because of the Gulf War of 1990, and again after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. The bombing of a synagogue in Djerba in 2002 was a problem, and so was the US-led Iraq war. Nonetheless, tourism always recovered.
The revolution in 2011, however, proved to be an even greater challenge. In view of the popular uprising and the fall of dicator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali regime, a number of foreign governments issued travel warnings. Tour operators rerouted their customers and cancelled pre-booked trips. Hotel-occupancy in major tourism areas dropped to very low levels, leaving small tourism entrepreneurs with little to no income.
After Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, 210,000 tourists left the country in the last week of January alone, causing revenues to drop by $ 178 million. All in all, Tunisia counted only 4.7 million tourists in 2011, a mere third of the comparative figure for 2010. 
By April 2011, with some travel warnings lifted, tourists slowly began to return to Tunisia. But following the September 2012 attacks on the U.S. embassy in Tunis and the American Cooperative School, the sector declined again. Terrorism and Islamist agitation have had a tremendously negative impact.
Political instability added to the problems. The Ministry of Tourism did not even manage to respond to negative messages the media spread after terror events. The cabinet kept changing. Since January 2011, six different ministers have been in charge of tourism. In such circumstances, it was impossible to sustain any public-relations strategy. The Ministry only began to get a grip on things again last year.
All in all, the sector employs about 22,000 less people today than it did in early 2011. Seasonal employment has suffered in particular.
Brighter future
However, things have begun to improve again. Unlike Egypt and Libya, Tunisia has embarked on a journey to democracy. The country now has a new constitution, on the basis of which the new parliament and the new president were elected. The successful transition to a new order can help to regain foreigners’ interest.
Tunisia can now market itself as a “start-up democracy”, a term first used by Amal Karboul, who was tourism minister from early 2014 to early 2015. Karboul devised a marketing strategy that stressed Tunisia’s progressive achievements. Her social-media approach was very popular, and her obsession with selfies resonated with the public. She insisted that using social media could be a very cost-effective alternative to conventional advertising.
She made other steps in the right direction too. In close cooperation, the Ministries of Tourism and Culture organised the Electronic Dunes Music Festival last year. The event took place in the landscape were a Star Wars movie was made. The Electronic Revolution Festival followed on the beach of Korbous. In Februray, the Second Electronic Dunes attracted an audience of 8.000 paying participants from Tunisia and Europe.
Of course, tourism is not only about the Sahara, the coastal areas and  archaeological sites. Inland cities, where jobs are needed badly, can benefit too. So far, however, cultural tourism has not been developed properly. The attractions of many towns should be made better known, and the government would be well advised to draft a strategy accordingly.
There is untapped potential. For instance, the Capsian people were the first human civilisation in Tunisia. They settled 12,000 years ago in what is now the town of Gasfa. The town’s region has a great cultural heritage, but it remains, like other central and southern cities, marginalised in economic and social terms. Tourism could make a difference.
Moreover, Tunisia should develop something like a revolution tourism. Many people are angry because it has not been documented properly how they toppled the dictatorship. By tackling the country’s recent history, museums, exhibitions and high-level events could attract many visitors.
Tourism accounts for about 12 % of Tunisia’s total employment. The sector needs a strong strategy. Its success is vital for economic recovery, but is affected by travellers’ security concerns. Related issues must be addressed fast and effectively. Since the formation of the new government, there still have been delays in passing a new terrorism law. The law is urgently needed.
The entire Tunisian economy needs a complete overhaul and a comprehensive vision moreover. Attracting more tourists is part of the solution, but it is not the solution in itself. Tunisia must get solid government budgeting, good macroeconomic management and policies that promote investment. 
It is the collective responsibility of the government, the media, the entrepreneurs and Tunisian citizens to draw the country’s tourism sector into a profitable direction. The image of the culturally diverse, geographically stunning and historically rich country needs to be promoted. It would be helpful, moreover, if Europeans understood that spending holiday money here is a contribution  to stabilising Tunisia as the Arab region’s  first constitutional democracy. 
*All the figures in the essay are from Tunisia’s statistics bureau.

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