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Cablegate: Beywatch: News From Tunisia

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. The following is one of a series of reporting cables
drafted predominantly by Post's entry level officers. We
believe the different perspectives offered in each of the
following paragraphs will (taken together) accurately reflect
what we consider to be the country's paradoxical nature --
Tunisia is highly developed in some respects, but much less
so in others. For more information about Tunisia or the
Embassy Tunis Entry Level Officer Development initiative, see
our Siprnet website (Ref).

Topic Paragraph
Nation Of Sports Fans............2
Golfers' Paradise................5
Smelly Soap, Healthy Eggs.......10
Paradoxical Medical Care........12
Anti-Americanism Diminishing....15

A Nation Of Sports Fans
2. The idea of "working out" is strange to most Tunisians.
Gyms are rare and tend to be under-equipped compared to gyms
in the U.S. However, along with the rest of the developing
world, sports and sporting figures are extremely popular in
Tunisia. Soccer, the most popular sport, is everywhere.
Large numbers of young Tunisian males play on weekends and
during the weekday after school, often on dusty fields with
rocks serving as the goalposts. Tarek Dhiab, the celebrated
Tunisian World Cup star, is parlaying his fame into starting
a sports television channel and has not ruled out a future in
politics. (NB: We plan to report more on the political
aspects of sports in Tunisia septel.)

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3. One of the reasons for this popularity seems to be the
apparent freedom of speech that exists for Tunisian
journalists who cover sports. Some Tunisians say this is the
only freedom of expression in Tunisia. A Tunisian contact
commented, "In Tunisian newspapers, the only truth to be
found is in the sports section and the obituaries, the rest
is garbage." Sports can be one of the only real outlets for
Tunisians to express themselves. Tunisians can yell at the
coach and hold rallies for their sports teams; on game days
roads are often blocked off near the stadiums and cars with
screaming fans in team colors cruise around town.

4. Tunisia recently has played host to several world-class
athletic championships. In 2004 Tunisia hosted and won the
Africa Cup, a soccer tournament, which brought the
continent's rising stars to Tunis. In February 2005 Tunisia
hosted the World Championship for the country's second most
popular sport, Team handball. Tunisia placed fourth after
narrowly losing to France in the consolation match. This
July, Tunisia will host the FIBA (International Basketball
Federation) Women's Under-19 (U19) World Championship in the
beach resorts of Nabeul and Hammamet. This is Tunisia's
first U19 World Championship berth in a sport that has become
increasingly popular in Tunisia. The Public Affairs section
recently took advantage of this by sponsoring a visit by
cultural envoys and former Georgetown basketball players
Omari Faulkner and Courtland Freeman. The players, in
coordination with the Tunisian Basketball Federation,
conducted intensive basketball clinics in cities throughout
Tunisia that were extremely popular.

A (Sometimes Crowded) Golfers' Paradise

5. Blessed with early spring weather, Tunisia is a key
destination for European golfers who like to get a jump on
the summer golfing season. Although one can golf year-round
in Tunisia, March and April typically see a deluge of
European golfers arriving to enjoy weather in the 70s to 80s
(F), relatively inexpensive green fees, and all-inclusive
hotel accomodations on the Mediterrean coast. A typical
traveler, for example, can expect to pay a mere 650 USD for a
week in at a 4 star hotel with 4 rounds of golf included.

6. Unfortunately, the swarms of bargain golfers to Tunisia
are pushing the regular locals off their home turf. Resident
golfers, whether Tunisian or foreign, who play most weekend
mornings are being forced to relocate to less crowded
courses, despite their pre-existing annual memberships on
their preferred courses. "This is totally outrageous and
against typical course management which normally favors
annual club members with preferred tee times," ranted one
local golfer.

7. Not surprisingly, profit maximization is what motivates
golf course managers to favor the foreign invaders. They are
happy to pack the courses during the high season, despite the
ill effects on the resident community. Some claim that the
local regulars' purchasing power pales in comparison to the
droves of package travelers who pack a typical course with
550 players on a weekend day, spending 70-100 USD a head. By
contrast, an annual membership offering unlimited golf (carts
and caddies extra) runs a mere 350 to 500 USD in Tunisia,
although some courses are beginning to push rates up. Tunis'
La Soukra Golf Club, for example, the only course in the
capital's metropolitan area, now fetches more that 1,000 USD
for an annual membership -- still a bargain by international

8. Pressure creates resistance and all of this has created a
bit of a storm against the management at one of the more
popular golf courses in Hammamet (a hotel-laden town on the
Mediterranean geared for tourists less than an hour's drive
from Tunis), with a number of regular golfers opting for
better customer service elsewhere. Thankfully, there are
other courses to play on. With daylight lasting until 9 p.m.
during the summer months and practically empty courses after
the spring droves have flown north for the summer, one can
only hope that all will be soon forgotten and Tunisia's
relaxed pace of play will resume.

9. Not surprisingly, the clout of the Tunisian First Family
permeates even Tunisia's golfing culture: A son-in-law to
President Ben Ali recently became President of the Tunisian
Golfing Federation. However, this is hardly virgin
territory, since the son of the country's first President
brought golf to Tunisia by building the first courses.

Artificial Rosewater And Heart-Friendly Eggs

10. The modernization of Tunisian consumer taste continues
apace. Omo, a brand of laundry soap, is currently
advertising new rose and jasmine-scented versions. This in a
country famous for its artisanal distilled essence industry,
whose products, such as rose and jasmine water, are used to
perfume laundry and in cooking. A traditional Tunisian
household is not complete without an ample supply of these
perfumed waters, often made from a family recipe. But is this
changing? While the annual handicrafts festival is still a
major draw for Tunisians, and welcomed guests this year with
displays of rose water distilleries, Omo has obviously
decided that Tunisian consumer tastes have reached the point
where offering an artificial "modern" version of a readily
available traditional product makes sense.

11. In another sign of evolving tastes, upper class Tunisians
are flocking to buy the new Omega-3 eggs offered by a local
agribusiness. These "heart-friendly" eggs, which are
advertised as low in cholesterol and high in Omega-3 oils,
are produced by feeding chickens a strict linseed feed-only
diet. Omega-3 mutton is said to not be far behind.

High Technology But Uneven Care
In Country's Best Private Clinics

12. Because of their high cost compared to public hospitals,
private clinics in Tunisia are available only to the well off
-- or well connected. However, some say the price is a
relative bargain for the level of care they can provide, and
so medical tourism is a growing source of income for the
Tunisian economy. The clinics' parking lots are full of cars
from Libya, and knowledgeable sources say growing numbers are
flying in from the UK to seek quicker and cheaper treatment
than they can get at home. Apparently, the British National
Health Service also has contracted with some clinics to
provide non-elective surgery in order to relieve long waits
for the procedures in the UK.

13. A good example is the new private La Soukra clinic (just
down the road from the golf course mentioned in Para 7), at
which emboff underwent knee surgery. Its operating room
appears to be a sterile environment. The clinic has a modern
x-ray machine that creates 3-D images of the bones in the
knee, images that later wowed the doctors back in the states
with the level of technology it represented. Other high tech
equipment monitored the patient, and the skilled surgeon,
trained in France, performed the delicate operation without

14. However, the clinic has flaws that undercut its value.
Like elsewhere in Tunisia, its marble is not treated with an
anti-slip coating, and patients and equipment slide too
easily in unexpected directions. Nor do the x-ray
technicians bring patients a lead apron when taking x-rays,
nor even appreciate the need for one. The physical therapist
does not have a suitable wheelchair, forcing the patient to
walk on crutches the length of two buildings soon after
surgery. The technician who changed the dressings on the
wound had a sneezy cold and did not wear gloves or clean her
hands after wiping her nose. The ambulance technician that
carried the patient to the hospital did not strap her to the
gurney. The nurses would not bring ice for the swelling
knee. (NB: The real problem, knoweldgeable sources say, is
threefold: there are virtually no trained nurses in private
or public establishments; there is very little pre-hospital
care, i.e, ambulances and EMTs; and, while the clinics have
lots of great technology, there are not enough trained
technicians to use it -- especially radiologists. The
general lack of liability and accountability in this and
other sectors of the economy also contribute.)

Buck Up Washington -- We Are Winning
The Public Diplomacy War In The Middle East,
One Head, Hat, And Hair At A Time!

15. Anti-Americanism in Tunisia has diminished greatly in the
last two years, and we believe Tunisians' affinity for our
country continues to recover from its former dismal levels.
This country was hardly the only one in which the recent war
in Iraq and the second Intifada excited powerful emotions --
like other Arabs, Tunsisians felt personally affronted over
the gore they viewed on pan-Arab satellite channels. In
2003, no-show rates at Embassy events were significantly
elevated. Even pro-American Tunisians would turn purple with
anger when discussing these issues. However, this is no
longer the case, though there is still much room for
improvement. While we are not out of the woods yet, some
signs indicate that we are winning some public diplomacy
battles, if not the war for hearts and minds, in Tunisia.

16. Only when not lecturing emboffs on the "double standards"
inherent in U.S. foreign policy would Tunisian contacts
half-jokingly explain their hyperbolic devotion to the
problems of other Arab countries by describing themselves as
"more Palestinian than the Palestinians." Memories of the
Israeli raids on the PLO when it was headquartered here
1982-94 probably boosted their anger over more recent events.
However, another theory is that Tunisia's foreign policy for
hundreds of years has been based on balancing two great
powers against each other to preserve the country's autonomy
and/or independence. First it was the Ottomans versus the
Spanish, until France surpassed Spain. Then after World War
2, it was the U.S. versus the Soviets who subsequently have
been replaced -- if only in many Tunisians' view -- by the
EU. The country lost its independence and became a French
"protectorate" approximately 120 years ago when the Ottomans
(specifically, the Ottoman-backed semiautonomous local
rulers, the Beys of Tunis) could no longer balance French
power. According to our records, in the early 1990s many
Tunisian contacts lamented the dissolution of the Soviet
Union for fear the U.S. soon would act as France had less
than a century before. Tunisia is an ancient country but the
Tunisian Republic is not even fifty years old. Locked into a
"balance of power" mindset, Tunisians fear their country
remains weak and vulnerable. It is; however, we believe they
are wrong to think that history will repeat itself.

17. Nevertheless, these fears are diminishing steadily as all
that American civilization has to offer this country -- which
admittedly continued to permeate this society even during the
worst days of the last few years -- is beginning to crowd out
Tunisians' fears. The Carthage Jazz Festival brought in a
variety of American Jazz groups this year. Although they
were not top names, all shows sold out quickly, and groups
played to packed large venues. Meanwhile, sales of pirated
American DVDs have grown steadily after access to French
satellite TV was briefly interrupted (see reftel). Some
restaurants have re-adopted American themes, and small
American flag stickers are seen on the backs of a few mopeds.
Human rights NGOs are beginning to reach out to the U.S. We
think the elections in Iraq and recent progress on the Gaza
Disengagement and the Roadmap have been hugely beneficial in
contributing to the new detente.

18. Although, many (including the GOT) cite young women's
increasing use of the Muslim veil (aka Hijab) as proof that
the U.S. is losing the battle for Muslim heads (and minds),
we beg to differ and note the following.

- Starting in 2004, Tunisians have begun wearing New York
Yankees baseball caps in ever greater numbers, and now we
believe this hat is the single most common piece of headgear
in the capital and other major cities like Sfax, not to
mention the country's more westernized tourist-infested
eastern coast running from Nabeul to Mahdia. The caps let
wearers identify with America -- or New York -- without
appearing to support the U.S. Government. (NB: Tunisians are
generally unfamiliar with baseball.)

- Starting in late 2004, poloff noticed lower middle class
Tunisian adults, as well as upper class Tunisian children,
began wearing clothes (hats and tshirts) on which the U.S.
flag was printed.

- Visit Tunisian universities (where as previously reported
women outnumber men) or cafes open to both sexes and you will
see the number of young women dying their hair blond has gone
up. Henna has been used to give Tunisian women's hair a
reddish tint for years, but the existence of Blond Arab
Tunisian women is a new phenomenon. This is a style of the
rich most of all, but lower middle class women are doing it
too, albeit with somewhat darker dyes. While this is still a
new trend, we submit the hypothesis that the rate of growth
of the use of blond hair dye in Tunisia is higher than the
rate of growth of wearing the hijab. That's hard
(impossible?) to quantify, but if true, you read it here

19. Admittedly, baseball caps, flag emblems, and hair dye are
about more than just attitudes towards the U.S. In
particular, blond hair for Tunisians signifies Europe and the
West as much as it does America. For that matter, the Hijab
is inherently neither "anti-" nor "un-" American. Our
argument is only that (mostly young) Tunisians appear to be
adopting fashions that other Tunisians can interpret as being
pro-American after a few years during which these fashions
were conspicuously missing. Like wearing bluejeans in
Eastern Europe during the Cold War, these are ways young
people can show dissatisfaction with the status quo, or just
make a fashion statement, or some combination of both.
Regardless, we predict further positive developments.


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