Tunisia free – Brits moan

This is a travel blog, not a political blog, so although there’s been intense activity over on twitter tracking the extraordinary Tunisian revolution, I’m not going to dwell on the implications here.

Instead, I’m going to focus in on my own country’s unerring ability to miss the big picture in favour of pushing its own emotional buttons. It took literally weeks for the British media to even start reporting the fact that political feeling in Tunisia was rising against the dictatorship of Ben Ali. When they did, they reached for the cosy old familiarity of terms reflecting how the West likes to think of Eastern hotheads – terms like coup, rioters and violent rebellion. People were dying while campaigning for simple democracy but it was all just more bad news from the fringes: easy to ignore.

And, it seems, the tourism industry chose to ignore it. Even after it was clear to modestly informed onlookers that something big was happening in Tunisia, and that political revolution was in the air, the holiday companies were still flying plane-loads of tourists out for holidays in the sun. Even while protestors were being killed in the streets.

I call that irresponsible profiteering.

Then, when the crisis came to a head and the president fled the country, suddenly the media woke up, the news organizations parachuted in their special correspondents – and, true to form, “evacuated” British tourists started arriving back at UK airports for their 15 seconds of fame, blurting out tales of tanks and armed rioters, complaining how they’d lost money on their holiday and moaning about how scary it had been.

But, when Tunisia’s political collapse finally happened, it was not a surprise: this wasn’t a shock overnight event, like the Berlin Wall coming down. This had been brewing for weeks.

The British tourism industry stuck their heads in the sand and hoped it would all go away. They, in effect, put their staff and customers in mortal danger by continuing their operations in Tunisia, and also made a political decision to support the dictatorial status quo by not pulling out when the crackdown began. Will anybody hold them to account?

After this Tunisia will be a better place, its tourism industry will continue to thrive, and it’s most unlikely people will be put off returning there or anywhere else in the region (unless other regimes start toppling). The long-term ramifications will be negligible. The holiday companies will continue to benefit.

Small-minded Britons arriving home early should shut up moaning about losing their winter sunshine, and start congratulating the Tunisians on an amazing achievement. There’s a bigger picture here.