Tunisia is a small country, with a population of about 10 million people. It was also long considered more stable than Morocco, with its constantly changing colonial relationships, and Algeria, which held a revolution against France. But in recent years, Tunisia’s citizens have been protesting against high unemployment, corruption, and rising food prices. it culminated in the death of Mohamed Bouazizi on January 4, 2011; he was a street vendor who set himself on fire to protest how government officials confiscated his business and put him through legal loopholes before he could re-open. This, in turn, became a pivotal event in the Arab Spring.
Tunisia will be a high-risk place for investors as all of this unrest sorts itself out. Robert Kaplan’s book Mediterranean Winter: The Pleasures of History and Landscape in Tunisia, Sicily, Dalmatia, and Greece looks at Tunisia as part of the entire Mediterranean region. The book’s structure is interesting: Kaplan traveled in the Mediterranean as a post-college backpacker in 1975 and 1976. He took notes on his trip. He fell in love with the region and settled in Greece, which was a good location for a freelance writer who wanted to report on the world’s various hot spots. He eventually became a correspondent for The Atlantic and a consultant on geopolitical issues. This is the story of that 1970s trip, mixed with Kaplan’s perspective on the region now and backed with extensive history.
The entire region is shaped by conquest, exploration, and trade. The ancient Greeks and Phoenicians, the Romans, and the Eastern Orthodox all moved around. At one point, most of the countries had a large Muslim, but over time, the Muslims were pushed into North Africa. It makes for a story of people who come into constant contact, sometimes for good and sometimes not.
One of the most interesting observations was about architecture. Kaplan notes that historically, each country followed a unique and lovely style, even for ordinary buildings used by ordinary people. In the last 50 years or so, too much of the construction has been in the ugly third-world cinder block genre. It’s a cultural loss and a depressing way to live.