June 30, 2015 - Tunisia has long been the playground of Europe's holidaymakers both gentile and Jewish, due to its generous beaches, outstanding hospitality and warm, tolerant atmosphere.
The Arab Spring put a stop to all that for several years, shriveling up the income that flowed into the country from international tourism, including an annual holiday pilgrimage of Sephardic Jews to an ancient synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba.
The current moderate government in Tunis, however, has worked hard to re-establish the country's credibility with tour operators, assuring them that local extremism was no longer an issue. Radical Islam, it was felt, would not interfere with the industry; the badly-needed income from tourists -- as with the social stability that had led to the rejuvenation of the economy -- would triumph over fundamentalism.
Sadly, tragically, the bloody massacre by Da'esh (ISIS) terrorists last Friday on the beach in Sousse proved them wrong. It left its mark also on local Tunisian tourists as well, according to a report Tuesday by the Tunis Tribune.
The attack completely destroyed months of work by the Tunisian government spent in trying to rebuild the shattered tourism industry after the Jasmine Revolution.
Extensive measures were announced by the government to strengthen the safety of tourists visiting the nation’s renowned resorts -- but to no avail.
Since last Friday’s slaughter, European tour operators have recorded thousands of cancellations of stays originally planned in Tunisia for the month of July.
Tour operators had already repatriated several thousands of clients from the at the time of the attacks. They were, for many, the harbinger of changes in travel plans to come.
In France, the union of travel agencies, has also recorded in these last few days a massive wave of withdrawals. Some 80 percent of of tourists have applied for cancellations or a change of destination for the next month on 8,000 out of 10,000 reservations.
The Seto Union of Tour Operators which manages a total of 50,000 reservations, has seen 25 percent to 50 percent of applications for change of destination for the same period.
French tourists were not the only ones to have second thoughts and temporarily redirect their vacation getaways away from Tunisia, either.
In Belgium, where the government recommended its citizens stay away from Tunisia, one large tour operator, Jetair, has suspended all of its reservations until the end of July. This decision represents, according to a company spokesperson cited by the AFP news agency, “thousands of cancellations.”
The Neckermann tour operator, a subsidiary of Thomas Cook, also faces 15,000 cancellations by the end of August.
In Germany, one of the top European sources of holiday goers, at least half of its tourists also did not depart this weekend for planned trips to Tunisia.
“Right now it’s more dangerous even than in France,” wrote one person in a Facebook post on the newspaper’s page.
Nevertheless, a Turkish citizen wrote in response, “I intend to be a solidarity tourist; I will not reject Tunisia.”
“There is no question of canceling the Tunisia I love,” wrote another. “I come in August.”
But, “Tunisia is a country at risk,” wrote a fourth.
And so on. The comments continued to be split more or less evenly, with readers arguing about “giving in to these terrorists” as opposed to waiting until things have “calmed down.”
Tunisia has survived the Jasmine Revolution and the Arab Spring. Despite the best efforts of radical Islam to tear it apart, Tunisian society managed to preserve the mutual respect between social sectors and honor the plurality that sets its apart from so many other Arab nations in the region.
The only question now is, can Tunisia survive ISIS?