I, Tunes

The Portuguese didn’t make it to Carthage, although the Carthaginians certainly made it to Portugal. In fact, from anecdotal evidence it seems possible that ships from what is now Tunisia actually got to the Azores.

The origin of the term Tunisia is uncertain, but there is speculation that the name derives from the city of Tunis. Like Libya, the full name is Jamahiriya Al Tunisia, the Tunisian republic. Tunis is a corruption of Túnez,  still used in Spain, or Tunes, as used in Portugal. The name itself may come from the ancient Phoenician goddess Tanith, also called Tunit. Whatever the etymology, one thing’s for sure: Tunisia spells trouble.

To Europeans it’s a holiday destination, although I’m personally not drawn to North Africa for fun and sun. But it’s also a country that has been ruled for decades with an iron fist, with the complacency of western govenrments. Most prominently France and the U.S.

Ben Ali was, according to the Guardian, “a good student of the IMF, garantor of stability, and strongly opposed to Islamic fundamentalism.” Undoubtedly a son of a bitch, but paraphrasing Roosevelt, “our son of a bitch.” And now he has taken early (some would argue late) retirement in Saudi Arabia, the elite retirement home for dictators since the days of Idi Amin Dada.

Amin himself was an extraordinary despot, well portrayed recently in the movie “The Last King of Scotland”, who titled himself:

His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.”

One of the most amusing stories about him is told in a wonderful book by John Simpson, from the BBC, entitled “It’s a Mad World my Masters”, the title drawn from a play by Middleton. In the book, which describes Simpson’s adventures as a foreign correspondent for British TV, he is granted an interview with Amin. The General schedules the interview after emerging from doing some lengths in his olympic pool as part of his exercise program, or perhaps his program to impress foreign correspondents. The interview is conducted poolside, Amin still in his Speedos. Unfortunately, oblivious to the general, one large black testicle has escaped the confines of the thong, and is making itself known to Her Majesty’s cameramen. As usual, the General was talking balls.

In keeping with my tradition of providing an illustration in these blogs, I had a look on Google images for:

idi amin speedos

I didn’t have much hope, but what came out is possibly the worst example I’ve ever found of a google search match. It’s hard to fathom the relevance of just about every image on there. I encourage you to try, it’s an exercise in lateral thinking. Anyhow, given the context, I’ve included the one below. At least it’s allegorical.

A curious use of balls

It’s always fun when you’re heading somewhere and some strange thing leads you off at a tangent. When it happens in a good way, that is – it shows you the wondrous nature of life. For example, I was randomly led from here to a link via the BBC of a jury that caused a trial to be ended in 2008. It happened in Australia in a case where two guys were accused of manufacturing speed pills. Ironically, it must have been a slow procedure, because the amphetamine trial was underway for two months, during which the jury were seen to be taking copious notes. Unfortunately, the jurors themselves were busted when someone observed they had been taking notes vertically. They were in fact on a six-week Sudoku marathon.

Simpson also reports on a Khadafi interview punctuated at regular intervals by loud flatulence from the Libyan dictator, detected both by the precision microphones of Auntie Beeb and presumably by the olfactory sensors of the film crew. Libya is one neighbor which, while Khadafi lasts,  is interested in dealing with the west, particularly now that post Lockerbie negotiations have been conducted. A lot of the business concessions that formed part of that particular horsetrading are murky waters indeed.

But the regime change in Tunis is a loudhailer for the region. Among the most concerned will be King Hassan II of Morocco, and Egypt’s strongman, Mubarak. The spread of Islamic fundamentalism in northwest Africa will create increasing tension across the Gibraltar straits, and significantly greater support for terrorism in Iberia. Don’t forget that all the south of Spain was for eight hundred years Al Andaluz, the fabled caliphate of Moorish times. Since then, it has only belonged to the crusaders for five centuries. Look at it from an historical standpoint.

 To the east, there’s Egypt. A hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism, native land of Al Qaeda’s number two, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, a man with a 25 million dollar prize on his head. Mubarak is strongly supported by the U.S., who bless his role as a supressor of any manifestation of fundamentalism. One hundred miles east of Suez, Israel.

Sometimes when you’re taken somewhere by randomness it’s the devil to claw your way back. If the brush catches in North Africa, it’ll take a lot to douse it. 


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