National Geographic : 1980 Feb
Kairouan. This great edifice is much like Tunisia's gene pool: of many origins but, in sum, Arab. There are Arabs and Arabs. "I may fast at Ramadan this year," a young Tunisian said while sipping a beer. Tunisia is often influ enced by those other gene streams. She ab sorbs the good and bad of the West more readily than some of the Arab states to which she feels kin. It is ironic that the Arab League chose Tunis last year when, ostra cizing Egypt because of the peace treaty with Israel, it withdrew its headquarters from Cairo. Far from being the league's most resolute member, Tunisia outraged other Arab states by saying as early as 15 years ago that they might as well acknowl edge Israel's existence. Tourists Oil Tunisia's Economy In the coin of resurgent Arab influence Tunisia is painfully deficient. Gushers to the east: Libya, 750 million barrels of petroleum ayear. Gushers to the west: Algeria, 460 mil lion barrels. Between, an anemic 38 million. Oil companies prospecting in Tunisia usual ly go home poorer and puzzled. The six pro ducing fields pay only 14 percent of the government's expenses. An Allied soldier returning to the Tunis he liberated in May 1943 would recognize many buildings on the main street; Tunisia can't afford flashy redevelopment. While other Arab states pour millions into invest ments abroad (including tourist hotels in Tunisia), Tunisia offers foreign manufac turers tax breaks. She needs jobs. Using what she has-antiquities and beaches she earns as much from tourists as from oil. Yet in the 24 years since she became inde pendent from France, Tunisia has made a record of economic and social progress that most of the developing world envies. All those cars jamming the streets of Tunis and all those serviceable-seldom fancy-apartment high rises making new Peace seems perpetual at the huddled village of Takrouna, but in April 1943 it was an outpost of hell as New Zealanders met fierce German resistance here. Yet within a month the Allies had secured Tu nisiaand were preparingto assaultSicily.