Trading Glances in Tunisia (January 1999)

It was a strange meeting and a strange country – my first real experience of the Arab world. Lots of men everywhere smoking and drinking coffee, trying to sell me antiques, talk to me. Annoy me. I was warned before leaving for Tunisia that the secret police would follow me as I work for Human Rights Watch. We print what they don’t in their newspapers about what really goes on in their country. It has no free and open society. My hotel room has an entire wall of mirrors and my email cut off after one successful attempt to get through.

At the seminar I attended, I spoke about the mine problem and its solutions at the end of the first day after a lot of panel presentations. A representative of the embassy of Egypt (Aly Sirry, consellor) took the floor in the question and answer period afterwards and without directing naming me or HRW started a speech on documents circulating at the meeting that did not correctly reflect Egypt’s position on the ban on the treaty. His argument was the, “lack of incentives in the treaty that would help Egypt deal with its massive landmine problem.”

The chair (the only woman to chair any part of the conference) cut him off and I responded by asking for him to put his concerns in writing, that we welcome a dialogue but that this was a non-governmental conference and this was not an appropriate time to engage in a debate and invited him to speak with me afterwards. In private he said Egypt has halted its mine production. I said Egypt must make these statements in public or in writing if we can take them seriously. The next day during the final plenary he read out a written statement without mentioning mine production.

Besides the meeting the people that I met were nice. Eager to show off their history – I went to Carthege at the northernmost tip of Africa together with Sylvie Brigot, which was a ten minute cab ride from the city. The place was once home to all sorts cultures roman included. Shopped in the souk in the medina (old town). Bought a carpet after haggling but still think I was ripped off! And a red fez hat that I’ll give to Dad for his birthday so he looks distinguished!