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

India PM Modi's party distances itself from religious conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote a Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert to Hinduism More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid