Tunis Lines Up Top PR Team; Washington Media Group, Washington
June 10, 2010
Does Tunisia suffer from a poor image abroad? The country's communications minister, Oussama Romdhani (who is also boss of the powerful Agence Tunisienne de Communication Exterieure) signed a contract with the American lobbying and PR firm Washington Media Group on May 1. Tunisia's account will be handled by lobbyist Gregory Vistica, a former journalist, and a public relations specialist, John Leary. In return for an annual fee of USD 420,000, WMG will work to burnish Tunisia's image in the United States but also in France and elsewhere in Europe. Apart from translating certain official web pages into English, the firm will work at "modifying" Wikipedia's reports concerning Tunisia, keep an eye on social networks like Facebook and "optimize" search engines in order to focus on favourable content on Tunisia. Identifying media outlets that could provide more positive coverage will equally form part of the package.
For anyone who knows about Tunisia, do spend time badmouthing the Ben Ali regime on Wikipedia and elsewhere to counter these crooks. A good place to start from background is Kamel Labidi's review of La Regente de Carthage, the latest book about the rise of Ben Ali's wife:
According to the authors, Trabelsi is not only in great health at 52, but has also been privy to all state secrets since 1987. She has placed her cronies and mercenaries everywhere, and, along with an extended family that has demonstrated flawless solidarity, accumulated a war chest of treasure that can “buy the docility of any hesitant person”. Hence, allegedly, the infamous 2005 law that granted huge “retirement benefits” to former presidents upon leaving office or to their families in the event of their death. The law was quickly passed, approved and published at a time when rumours about the president’s health were on the rise.
Beau and Graciet argue that if Ben Ali, 73, were to suddenly die or become incapacitated his manipulative wife might become “the regent of Carthage” and transform Tunisia from a “soft dictatorship” into a “banana republic”. Their only son, Mohamed, is still under 10 years old. The authors echo intensifying rumours among Tunisians that the first lady’s favourite candidate for succession is her son-in-law, the rising businessman and politician Sakher Materi, 29, who emerged as one of the country’s richest industrial and media tycoons after his marriage to her daughter Nesrine. The first lady’s younger brother, the ubiquitous businessman Belhassan Trabelsi, is another leading figure in what Tunisians refer to as the “ruling family”. The authors also recount how nephews Imed and Moez Trabelsi were protected from prosecution in France after being implicated in the theft of luxury yachts. One of the stolen vessels, seen anchored in May 2006 near the Carthage Presidential Palace, is owned by Bruno Roger, a banker close to former president Jacques Chirac and his then interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy. Both men earned reputations for praising Ben Ali’s leadership skills. Sarkozy was the first head of state, after Col Qadhafi, who has ruled neighbouring Libya since 1969, to congratulate Ben Ali on his latest re-election.