Tunisia tourism nostalgic for Ben Ali era stability

Updated 15 February 2013

Tunisia tourism nostalgic for Ben Ali era stability

As Tunisia slips deeper into crisis two years after the revolution, workers in the once-thriving tourism sector say they miss the stability they knew under the dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. “Before, we lived better. Nothing happened under Ben Ali. We were at peace. Security was better,” said Mahmud Ben Rabeh who runs a crafts stall in the blue and white hilltop village of Sidi Bou Said overlooking the Mediterranean.
“It is good that he left but before it was much better,” he said of the veteran leader who was ousted two years ago in a popular uprising that set off the Arab Spring in other regional countries fed up with autocratic rule.
The hilltop village is a prime Tunisian destination. But now the streets are empty and merchants like Ben Rabah say they can barely survive.
“I’ve been selling crafts for 25 years but I never was short of cash like now. I sold all my wife’s jewelry, even our wedding rings. I’ve got nothing left,” he said. The authorities have been unable to determine whether the blaze was an accident or a deliberate attack by militants, who have been blamed for looting historical sites in recent months.
A militant group was arrested in early December after a similar blaze at a historical site of Saida Manoubia in Tunis. Militants in Tunisia, thought to number between 3,000 and 10,000, have grown in influence since the revolution that brought to power the moderate Ennahda party.
Militants are accused of a wave of violence, and suspected of masterminding an attack last September on the US embassy in Tunis.
A once proud nation under Ben Ali, Tunisia has also been rocked by political and social unrest.
The February 6 killing of leftist politician and vocal government critic Chokri Belaid triggered street clashes between the police and angry opposition protesters, and has enflamed tensions between political rivals. A hotel manager is Sidi Bou Said said the revolution had blighted tourism, but he refused to be named “because I am afraid I will be gunned down” like Belaid.
“Tourism has been devastated since the revolution. Reservations are unpredictable; we cannot plan ahead. It is worse than during Ben Ali’s days, when Tunisia was stable and it was good for business,” he said.
A vital sector of the economy and key source of foreign currency, tourism represents 6.5 percent of gross domestic product in Tunisia.
But it has taken a beating since the revolution, leaving the hotel manager and others working in the sector fearful.
“We can barely pay our electricity bills and the salaries of the staff and there is nothing to reassure us on the horizon. Nothing expect violence,” he said.
Moncef, a waiter at the famous open air Cafe de Delices that overlooks the bay, agrees with those who say “We lived better under Ben Ali and earned a good living.”

Ben Ali ruled with an iron-fist, repressing militants. Under his reign insurgents were never seen in tourist districts.
In post-revolution Tunisia the opposition and civil society groups blame the Ennahda Islamic party for showing complacency towards the insurgents.
Tunisian analyst Slah Jourchi warned against disenchantment, however, saying it could be exploited by ex-regime diehards.
Jourchi, who sits on a so-called “council of wise men” set up by Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali to try to resolve the crisis, said all politicians were responsible and should work together to find a solution.

World Cup 2018: A Muslim-friendly travel guide

Updated 13 June 2018

World Cup 2018: A Muslim-friendly travel guide


Both Tunisia and Iran are based in the vibrant 800-year-old Russian capital, renowned for its golden domes and stunning orthodox architecture. It is home to the famous Russian ballet and a wealth of art, culture and iconic scenery, including the breathtaking Red Square. A truly multicultural capital, Moscow is home to a sizeable Muslim community, which first began to settle here around the time of the Golden Horde. If you want to explore some of the capital’s Islamic heritage, visit the historic Muslim area, Zamoskvorechie, and head for the ‘Historical Mosque,’ built in 1823 by Muslim tatars. Reopened in 1993 after a lengthy closure under communism, the mosque has recently undergone a major refurbishment. Along with the 10k-capacity Moscow Cathedral Mosque (pictured), it is the capital’s most significant Muslim building.
Halal Food: You’ll find plenty on offer, from highly rated restaurants including Mr. Livanets (Lebanese), Dyushes (Azerbaijani), and Gandhara (Asian) to halal food carts.
Mosque: The Moscow Cathedral Mosque on Pereulok Vypolzov.
Qibla: South.

Saint Petersburg

Saudi Arabia’s national team will be based in this bastion of Russian imperialism, known as the Russian ‘Venice’ for its stunning network of canals, neo-Renaissance architecture and its plethora of culture, arts and all things splendid. Visitors can enjoy a wealth of museums, galleries, open promenades and the finest dining in the northern hemisphere — talking of which, sun lovers will be delighted to know that during the World Cup the sun will barely dip below the horizon. Muslim visitors should not miss the St. Petersburg Mosque’s sumptuous Central Asian architecture and mesmeric blue tiles (pictured) — a design inspired by Tamerlane’s tomb in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
Halal Food: Limited, in comparison to Moscow, but both Eastern European restaurant Navruz and Oh! Mumbai (Indian) have received generally positive online reviews.
Mosque: St. Petersburg Mosque on Kronverkskiy Prospekt.
Qibla: South-east.


Egypt’s ‘Pharaohs’ should feel right at home in the Chechen capital, which is home to a huge Muslim population (its coat of arms features a mosque), making it one of the most halal-friendly destinations on our list. The mosque in question is the city’s flagship monument and main tourist attraction, the Ottoman-style Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque. Modelled on Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Mosque and sited in a serene location on the west bank of the Sunzha River, it is part of an ‘Islamic’ complex also housing the Russian Islamic University, Kunta Hajji, and is the spiritual headquarters for the Muslims of the Chechen Republic. Much of Grozny is still being rebuilt after being virtually destroyed in two wars with Russia in the 1990s and 2000s, much of it through investment from the UAE.
Halal Food: Chechnya is majority-Muslim, so you’ll be spoiled for choice, from fast-food chain Ilis to high-end restaurants in five-star hotels.
Mosque: Akhmad Kadyrov on Prospekt Putina.
Qibla: South-west.


Morocco are based in quiet (at least until the tournament starts), picturesque Voronezh. The city is littered with lush green spaces and stunning churches. It’s home to a large orthodox Christian community, as well as small Jewish and still-smaller Muslim ones. The city’s beautiful 114-year-old synagogue on Ulitsa Svobody is a popular tourist attraction. Those looking for more ‘familiar’ heritage should head to the Kramskoy Museum of Fine Arts on Revolyutsii Avenue, home to an impressive collection of ancient Egyptian works of art on stone and sarcophagi.
Halal Food: Very sparse. The Asian restaurant Bahor bills itself as offering the “only halal food in Voronezh,” and there are reportedly a couple of grocery stores selling halal meat, one in the city’s central market.
Mosque: While no official mosque has yet been built in Voronezh, Muslims do gather to pray. According to Halalguide.me, there is an informal mosque on Ulitsa Gvardeyskaya.
Qibla: South.


Essentuki, which will host Nigeria in its Pontos Plaza Hotel (pictured), is famous for its health spas and mineral water, so the 'Super Eagles' should at least be able to relax after their games. Muslim visitors may want to drop by Kurortny Park, where the drinking gallery was inspired by Islamic Moorish design.
Halal Food: Hard to find. There is a kebab house that may be able to provide halal options. Otherwise, head to the area around the mosque in nearby Pyatigorsk.
Mosque: The nearest mosque is 25 minutes drive west in Pyatigorsk, on Skvoznoy Pereulok.
Qibla: Southwest.


It’s all about space exploration in the city where Senegal will be based. Space travel pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky taught in Kaluga in his early years. The town’s main attraction — unsurprisingly — is the Tsiolkovsky State Museum of the History of Cosmonautics, reportedly the world’s first space museum. Second billing goes to the rocket scientist’s quaint old wooden family home.
Halal Food: Very hard to find. Asian restaurant Chaikhana and Russian eatery Solyanka (pictured) appear to cater to alternative dietary requirements, and may be worth a call.
Mosque: The town’s main mosque is a converted building off Ulitsa Annenki.
Qibla: South.