News / Middle East

    Ahead of Elections, a Prescription for 'Saving' Tunisia

    Lotfi Maktouf
    Lotfi Maktouf
    Lisa Bryant

    Later this year, Tunisia holds elections which will be closely watched around the world. The North African country's 2011 revolution helped inspire the larger Arab uprisings. Today many hope it will also spread the seeds for Arab democracies.

    One man will not be running in the polls but what he says gets plenty of attention. Businessman and philanthropist Lotfi Maktouf and his prescriptions for "Saving Tunisia."
     
    It's been a year since Lotfi Maktouf published Sauver la Tunisie, or Save Tunisia, but the headline-grabbing book - and its author - are still in the news. An international businessman based in Monaco, Maktouf seems a long way from his homeland. But his assessment of post-revolution Tunisia - what's gone wrong and what's needed for it to go right - has resonated in the North African country and abroad.

    "Let me put it this way. I'm optimistic for my country for the medium-to-long term. I'm not clear about what's cooking these days. I don't know [if] the technocratic government is doing anything…the curse for this transition government is that it didn't do [much for] the long term, but it didn't do [much for] the short term," said Maktouf.

    Maktouf's largely critical assessment of Tunisia's interim government is only one part of what he addresses. The book examines the legacy of post-independence president Habib Bourguiba and dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who was toppled in a January revolution three years ago.

    He's no fan of the Islamist Ennahda party that has dominated post-revolutionary politics - and, he believes, has nothing to do with Tunisia's cultural fabric. He thinks no party has an economic blueprint for getting Tunisia back on its feet. And just a few months before his country holds legislative and presidential elections, Maktouf is staying carefully apolitical.

    "I'm not interested in backing anyone, of course. They all kept hitting on us - Ennahda, Nidaa Tounis [a secular party]… I met all these leaders because they solicited me to be part of the government, they offered me the position of governor of the central bank and later the position of minister of finance," he said. "I nicely declined and said, 'you know, my focus is somewhere else.'"

    Maktouf's focus is on his Almadanya foundation, which he started shortly after Tunisia's revolution. But not before he made a reconnaissance visit to a country he left more than 35 years ago.

    "I travelled there, four days a week, for four months, all over the country….I visited everywhere, especially areas which were totally forgotten by the old regime..and I listened. And I learned so much about this beautiful country and I learned what being a Tunisian meant," said Maktouf.

    Almadanya focuses on Tunisia's environment, culture, and especially on education. That was Maktouf's own ticket out of a poor home in the coastal town of Sousse. He earned law degrees at the Sorbonne in France and Harvard in the United States.  He worked on Wall Street and for the International Monetary Fund before returning to Europe.

    "I'm a firm believer in the American dream idea - I've lived it. I come from a very poor background; I ended up at Harvard. I don't want to brag about myself…there are many other people who did even better than me. All I'm saying is that it's possible. How is it possible? Hard work," he said.

    Along with Tunisians, Maktouf is sharing that message with immigrant kids in France's working class suburbs, where he is invited to participate in seminars.  He's also started working on another book - drawing lessons about the wider Arab uprising. He believes democracy starts at the grassroots. And, he hopes, it will take hold in Tunisia.  

    You May Like

    No More Space Race for US, Rivalry Gives Way to Collaboration

    What began as a struggle for dominance in space between two world powers has changed entirely to one of joint efforts

    Beijing Warns Critics Over South China Sea Dispute

    Official warns critics that the more they challenge China's position regarding disputed territories in one of world’s busiest waterways, the more it will push back

    Move Over Millennials, Here Comes iGeneration

    How the first generation to be born, almost literally, with a smartphone in hand, might change America

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Image Recognition Market Seen Doubling by 2020i
    X
    Ramon Taylor
    May 05, 2016 10:05 PM
    From auto tagging on Facebook to self-driving cars, image recognition technology as it exists today is still in its beginning phases, experts say — and will soon change the way users and corporations interact with the physical world. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
    Video

    Video Image Recognition Market Seen Doubling by 2020

    From auto tagging on Facebook to self-driving cars, image recognition technology as it exists today is still in its beginning phases, experts say — and will soon change the way users and corporations interact with the physical world. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
    Video

    Video Child Labor in Afghanistan Remains a Problem

    With war still raging in Afghanistan, the country also faces the problem of child labor as families put their school-age children to work to help make ends meet. But, thanks to VOA's Afghan Service, two families whose children had been working in a brick-making factory - to earn their livings and pay off family debts - now have a new lease on life. Zabihullah Ghazi reports.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Troops Recount Firefight Which Killed US Navy SEAL

    A U.S. Navy SEAL killed Tuesday, when Islamic State fighters punched through Kurdish lines in northern Iraq, was part of a quick reaction force sent to extract other U.S. troops trapped by the surprise offensive. VOA's Kawa Omar spoke with Kurdish troops in the town of Telskuf -- the scene of what U.S. officials called a "dynamic firefight."
    Video

    Video British Lawmakers Warn EU Exit Talks Could Last A Decade

    Leaving the European Union would mean difficult negotiations that could take years to complete, according to a bipartisan group of British lawmakers. While the group did not recommend a vote either way, the lawmakers noted trade deals between the EU and non-EU states take between four and nine years on average. Henry Ridgwell reports on the mounting debate over whether Britain should stay or exit the EU as the June vote approaches.
    Video

    Video NASA Astronauts Train for Commercial Space Flights

    Since the last Shuttle flight in 2011, the United States has been relying on Russian rockets to launch fresh crews to the International Space Station. But that may change in the next few years. NASA and several private space companies are developing advanced capsules capable of taking humans into low orbit and beyond. As VOA's George Putic reports, astronauts are already training for commercial spacecraft in flight simulators.
    Video

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    The White House is expressing concern about rising political chaos in Iraq and the impact it could have on the fight against the Islamic State. The U.S. says Iraq needs a stable, central government to help push back the group. But some say Baghdad may not have a unified government any time soon. VOA's White House correspondent Mary Alice Salinas reports.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora