I was invited to a photography exhibition opened by the Tunisian Minister of Tourism Salma Al-Loumi Rafiq and attended by Tunisian Ambassador Lotfi Ben Gaied, Consul General Sami Al-Saidi, Tourism Officer in the Gulf region Choukri Charrad, chairman of the Culture and Arts Association in Jeddah, Omar Al-Jasser and a number of media professionals, intellectuals and artists, as well as representatives of tourism and travel agencies.
The exhibition was a joint project between the Tunisian Ministry of Tourism and the Saudi Culture and Arts Association in Jeddah. Last year, a group of young Saudi photographers were invited to Tunisia. They visited all major cities, from Tunis, Sousse, Hammamet, Djerba, Bizerte, on the Mediterranean coast, to historical Kairouan in the heartland.
They photographed historical and archaeological sites, representing various regions and features of the nation that goes back three thousand years with a mix of Phoenician, Carthaginian, Arab and African civilizations.
I was called onto the podium to give a speech. I told my audience: What I saw today was a shining model of the science and art of bridge building. The concept closely follows our holy book, the Qur’an, as Allah says: (O people, we created you as male and female and made you peoples and tribes to get acquainted with each others).
Bridge building is a scientific art that people have mastered and developed throughout history of mankind. They have explored and migrated vast and wide — traded, intermarried, and exchanged knowledge, science and culture. Civilizations are based on knowledge, and knowledge is cumulative.
The mathematics, algebra, astronomy, medicine, engineering and sociology developed by Arabs had helped European nations build up their civilizations. The Arabs, in turn, benefited from Greek, Persian, Indian, Chinese and Roman philosophy, arts and sciences.
Political and economic development are the most important bridges of cooperation between the Gulf countries and Tunisia, today. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are among the most eager bridge buildersDr. Khaled M. Batarfi
Literature and arts
Literature and the arts have always been a bridge of communication and acquaintance among people. Major Arab cultural events include Jerash (Jordan), Carthage (Tunisia), Janadriyah, (Saudi), Asilah (Morocco), the Book Fair (Cairo, Riyadh and Sharjah), as well as political forums in Doha, trade fares in Dubai and summer festivals in Muscat and Jeddah.
Still, we need more cultural events of fine arts, such as painting, photography, music, theater and folklore. We could benefit of more cooperation among universities, institutes, research and studies centers. Students, teachers and scientists exchange programs, as well as contests and joint projects should increase and cover all schools, subjects and nations.
Political and economic development are the most important bridges of cooperation between the Gulf countries and Tunisia, today. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are among the most eager bridge builders.
At the Tunis International Conference 2020, held at the end of November 2016, these two Gulf countries, alone, contributed billions of dollars to development projects in various Tunisian economic and social sectors.
Qatar’s total investment reached more than 1 billion dollars by 2015, and came in third in total foreign direct investment. The head of the Qatar Chamber, Sheikh Khalifa Bin Jassim Al-Thani, is leading Qatari private sector investments in Tunisia.
In the field of tourism, it is regrettable that the development that took place at the beginning of the second millennium has declined after the “so-called” Arab Spring events, the political turmoil and the terrorist incidents in Tunisia.
However, what I witnessed during my last visit, November, 2016, shows the return of stability, security, as well as, a noticeable increase in infrastructure projects and tourism investments. This should encourage the return of Gulf investments, trade and tourism to a country so rich in human, natural, industrial and mineral resources.
In addition, Arabs, especially from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, are so welcome in Tunisia, officially and publicly. It helped that our peoples are very close and similar. We are all proud of our Arabic heritage and conservative family culture. The successful investments of Saudi businessmen, such as, pioneering investor, Saleh Kamel, are a good example of how such cooperation may benefit all.
Today, our grand dreams and ambitions, in the Arab world, to join the First World need more strategic visionaries, such as the Saudi and Qatari leaders, and pioneering investors like Sheikh Khalifa Bin Jassim and Saleh Kamel. Tourism, for the rest of us, is the way to interconnect with each other and help make the bridge-building efforts worthwhile.
This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on April 25, 2017.
Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi journalist and writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at Twitter: @kbatarfi.