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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Tunisia appoints first Jewish minister in decades 

Rene Trabelsi named as tourism minister in bid to boost troubled economy

Rene Trabelsi, Tunisia's new tourism minister. AP
Rene Trabelsi, Tunisia's new tourism minister. AP

Tunisia on Tuesday approved a cabinet reshuffle that included Jewish businessman Rene Trabelsi as minister of tourism.

The reshuffle of 10 new ministers was proposed by Prime Minister Youssef Chahed last week, in hope of injecting fresh names into his government amid a political and economic crisis.

Mr Trabelsi is the third member of the country's small minority of 2,000 Jews to join Tunisia’s cabinet since its independence in 1956.

Albert Bessis served in the 1955 government that led to the country's independence, while Andre Barouch was a close aid to president Habib Bourguiba in 1956.

The tourism minister is from the island of Djerba, known as the heartland of Tunisia's Jewish community and site of pilgrimage, which attracts a number of tourists every year.

The island is recovering from a 2002 terrorist attack on the famous Ghriba synagogue that killed 21 people, including German tourists.

Mr Trabelsi's father, Perez Trabelsi, is the president of the synagogue and has been the leader of the community since 1985.

He has played a vital role in organising the pilgrimages and is known for efforts to promote Jewish-Muslim coexistence in the region.

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Tunisia is home to one of North Africa's largest Jewish community. The group has lived in the country since the Roman era and their community once numbered 100,000.

But fear and poverty pushed several waves of emigration after the creation of Israel in 1948. Many Jews left the country after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, with most going to France or Israel.

Mr Trabelsi studied management in France and set up a travel agency in 1990s, which now caters to almost 300,000 travellers a year, mostly from France to Tunisia.

However, a string of terrorist attacks have had an impact on the country's vital tourism sector.

In 2015, extremists attacked the National Bardo Museum in Tunis killing 22 people and leaving more than 50 injured. The landmark was known to be one of the capital's principal tourist attractions.

Another attack targeted a beach resort in Sousse, killing 59 foreign tourists and a Tunisian guard.

However, Mr Chahed said on Monday that he expected tourist visits to reach nine million for the first time next year — about 6.2 million tourists visited the country in the first nine months of this year, up 16.9 per cent from the same period last year, in a rebound from the impact of the 2015 attack.

Although Tunisia has been hailed for its domestic transition since 2011, the North African country has since been beset by an economic crisis and a series of terrorist attacks.