Thursday, July 02, 2015

Beach Massacre in Tunisia

The world has been shocked by the massacre on the beaches of Tunisia. The British have been stunned by television images of UK citizens lying dead on the beach. A UK reporter interviewed the gunman’s grandfather demanding an explanation for the people of the UK, and pressuring him to make an apology. However, a big part of the story has been missed.

In her book “Thieves of State”, Sarah Chayes describes the kleptocracy that controls the Tunisian economy. The friends and family of President Ali had used political power to gain control of large chunks of the Tunisian economy. Their favourite technique was to take out massive loans from a Tunisian bank. They would then default, and because of their political connections, the bank would have no choice but to write it off as a bad debt. Using this process, loan money from the IMF and the European Union flowed into the pockets of the economic elite in Tunisia.

The president’s families and cronies used their political privilege to gain control of much of the tourism industry in Tunisia. They bought the land beside the best beaches cheap and used borrowed money to build massive hotel complexes, often with generous help from government agencies. Most of the best public beaches were taken up in this way. Chayes described one complex on what had been one of the last good public beaches.

As is typical in the Tunisian tourist trade, this hotel functioned as a closed system. A partnership with Italian investors, it employed no Tunisians except for a few guards, and shipped in all its foodstuffs from Italy. Not even Tunisia’s luscious olive oil reached its tables. And like other seaside resorts, its beach access was off-limits to locals.
It was government policy to cordon of the tourist trade this way, to shield foreigners from Tunisian realities, and to reserve the sector from well-connected insiders. The isolation allowed for another dimension: the suctioned use of some resorts for sex tourism (p.95).
The whole set up is designed for the benefits of the economic elite and their European financers. It provides luxury and freedom for relatively wealthy tourists, while shutting out the local people.

The so-called Arab Spring got under way when a Tunisian fruit vendor who had been constantly been harassed by the local police set himself on fire in protest against the government disruption of his fruit business. President Ali was overthrown, but the economic elite that controls much of the economy and the tourism trade remained in place. The local people are still shut out of the industry, and shut of their own beaches.
The actions of the gunman in Tunisia were immoral, but it is not hard to understand his frustration. You do not have to be a member of ISIS to realise that something is rotten in the Tunisian economy.

Sarah Chayes records a warning to the politicians made by photojournalist Talel Macer,

If you keep ignoring the serious economic issues that matter. I mean social justice and punishment of the people who stole. If things go on in this way, the youth will flock to the Salafis (p.100).
Marwan Jedda a Salafi leader gave an even stronger warning.
People wanted to bring down corruption and repression in 2011, but neither has fallen yet. Corruption has increased in Tunisia. People demanded, work freedom and dignity. As an Islamist, I have a solution. The second revolution will be on Islamic revolution (p.99).
The pontifications of Western politicians ring hollow in this context. Theresa May, the British Home Secretary, said it was a “despicable act cruelty in a place of beauty, relaxation and happiness”. She is right about the cruelty. And the beach is a place of beauty and happiness for foreign tourists. But it is not a place of beauty, relaxation and happiness for the local people, because they are shut out of the beach, unless they can get employment at the hotel complex, but it will be very poorly paid and not a place of relaxation.

Prime Minister David Cameron rambles on about freedom. However, he mostly seems to be worried about the freedom of British and Italian businesses and banks to carry on colluding with the Tunisian economic elite in extracting profits from their unrighteous wealth. He also seem to be worried about the freedom of UK tourists to strut on Tunisian beaches in their brief bikinis and drink alcohol day and night, without having to think about whether their actions are offensive to the local people. David Cameron does not seem to be that worried about the freedom of the local people to swim on their own beaches.

John Kerry extols the benefits of secular government, but to local people, “secular” means “no morals”, so secular government is incapable of dealing with the corruption of the political and economic elite. And the evidence seems to confirm that. Many people are coming to the belief that only a return to an Islamic government will bring an end to theft and corruption.

Unfortunately, ideas and inaction have consequences.

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