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TUNISIA: Provocative advertising campaign stirs the pot in foreign capitals

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During Tunisia's popular uprising, which led to the ouster of President Zine el Abidine ben Ali in January, tourists deserted the country en masse.

Advertising agencies are now trying to attract tourists and sunbathers back to Tunisia's beaches and Roman ruins through a controversial billboard campaign that is stirring the pot in foreign capitals.

One billboard appearing on public buses in London features an image of a woman receiving a back massage with the accompanying text, "They say that in Tunisia some people receive heavy-handed treatment."

Another poster reportedly running in the campaign depicts the country's fabled Roman ruins next to the line: "They say Tunisia is nothing but ruins."

More than 300 people died in the Tunisian uprising, which began in December. Opponents of Ben Ali say they were rounded up, detained and tortured in prisons during his rule.

But the advertising agency Memac Ogilvy, which created the campaign for the Tunisian Tourism Board, defended the ads in an interview with the BBC, saying they were intended to get talk going among potential tourists and that they weren't inconsiderate to Tunisians who may have suffered under Ben Ali.

"The idea was to be provocative, to address possible fears around the issue of the Arab Spring," Syrine Cherif of Memac Ogilvy told the BBC's "Focus on Africa" program. "This unfair treatment was done by people who were in the dictatorship, and now the dictatorship has gone. It's over. Today it's a new Tunisia."

Tunisia's tourism industry reportedly provided hundreds of thousands of jobs among the country's 10 million people, and is estimated to be worth more than $2 billion to the national economy. 

But while advertising agencies put out campaigns aimed at attracting tourists to a new and freer Tunisia, more conservative voices are finding sway in the country. In February, several people were injured when hundreds of bearded Islamists took to the streets of the capital in an attempt to close down a brothel. Tunisia is the only Arab country where prostitution is widely tolerated and abortion is legal.

On Wednesday, Tunisia's Internet Agency announced that it would block all pornographic sites on the Internet, following a court ruling. 

The Tunisian court of appeals made its decision on grounds that porn sites constitute a danger to the country's youth and that X-rated sites violate Muslim values, according to a report by Agence France-Presse.

Last month, a number of Internet sites and profiles on Facebook were reportedly ordered blocked by a Tunisian military tribunal for unclear reasons. The censorship order resulted in the resignation of blogger and free-speech advocate Slim Amamou, who was appointed junior minister for youth in the interim government that followed the overthrow of Ben Ali.

 -- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photo: A London billboard advertising tourism in Tunisia. Credit: BBC

Comments () | Archives (4)

Tunisia has so much to offer visitors. We have brought thousands of Americans to Tunisia over the years and have been one of the only, if not THE only American tour company continuing to bring Americans to Tunisia since the revolution. In additional to Tunisia's wealth of archaeological sites, desert and indigenous architecture, NOW is a particularly interesting time to visit. We have been incorporating people-to-people encounters into our programs, providing Americans the opportunity to meet with Tunisians and hear first hand about the revolution and why Tunisians feel their transition to a free, democratic system is on the right path. This feeling of experiencing history in the making is the new opportunity that should attract travelers. It is a shame that the Tunisian Tourism Board should feel the need to spend money on gimmicks, when in fact, they have the ingredients to provide travelers with a new opportunity...Experience History in the Making. Our clients have been on Youtube talking about this wonderful experience and also, about the fact that they have felt very safe in Tunisia. Google "Voices from Tunisia" or "Aswat min Tunis" and you will find many, unedited testimonies to the above. Tunisia is a special place and now more than ever, Americans will find it a special place to visit.

t u n i s i a
marhaban bicom fee tunis /arabic\

wellcome to tunisia /english\

bien venus en tunisie /french\

hertzlishen um tunisia /german\

tunisia e yokozo /japaneese\

dear foreign guests we are always waiting for you to come back and visit the new free tunisia.
in visiting tunisia now is contributing to the freedom of tunisia and the freedom of all arab world with your support and with your trully come back to tunisia is the biggest win to the freedom so help tunisia just by visiting it.
dear guest god bless you and god bless tunisia.
hiroshima burawi /tokyo/japan.

dear guests tunisia has had a difficult period of changing power from dictator ship to free tunisia our beloved foreign guests may heard about tunisia alot of unrest and difficulty but today everything is over yes all the troubles has gone and we tunisians will never accept again dictator rulers we will be free forever however our economy has suffered alot because our dearest guests did not come to visit and enjoy tunisia .today tunisia has started a new page of history can you help us coloring this new page so please just come back and visit tunisia we are always waiting for knew what is freedom no terrorist just say the truth talk to others with the language they understand it is really nice tobe free but it means nothing if you are poor because you.ll be owned by others today the history has come to tunisia so you too come back to us so that we can enjoy a new tunisian era of freedom.yes sir we did our turn in throwing a dictator and in starting an arab spring in the arab world so don,t let us down we are counting on you. having a job is having a freedom / wellcome back to the free tunisia /marhaban bicom fee tunis/wellcome to iam a tunisian living in japan for 20 years and iam working in a very big hotel yes tunisians love hotels and love to comunicate with others tunisia tourism is suffering so please come back to tunisia and help us making a new history of freedom and ggodunderstanding.
as a hotel mam always trully yours
hiroshima burawi from tokyo japan.don,t forget tunisia pls.

Bad taste.


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