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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More