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A witness to the tumultuous "Arab Spring" demonstrations in Tunisia, Gordon Gray, the United States ambassador to Tunisia, shared his experiences and observations with the University of Wyoming community.
When the first pro-democracy protests started in Tunisia last December, Ambassador Gray observed first-hand the start of a popular movement that swept across North Africa into the Middle East. The revolution in Tunisia ended the 23-year rule of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, paving the way to a new era for the Tunisian people.
Ambassador Gray's appearance was sponsored by UW International Programs, continuing UW's emphasis on providing internationalization opportunities for both students and faculty members. He lead an open forum at UW to take questions, discuss his experiences and share his thoughts on the future of U.S.-Tunisia cooperation. His visit to UW also helped to revitalize the close connections between Wyoming and Tunisia that were established and flourished during the past decade.
One successful connection between the two countries is a National Guard partnership program that paired Wyoming's National Guard with Tunisia to demonstrate the effectiveness of having a civilian military and the importance of civilian control of the military. The Wyoming National Guard began a number of activities with the Tunisian military, ranging from providing professional military training to seeking ways to use aircraft to combat invading locusts. Tunisian military personnel met with Wyoming business and political leaders during visits to the state.
As military interactions progressed, UW was asked to join the partnership in 2005, beginning with discussions with Outreach School Dean Maggi Murdock. Later, the International Programs Office obtained a Middle East Partnership Initiative grant from the U.S. Department of State. UW added an Arabic language instructor and established opportunities for students to visit Tunisia in the summer, mainly at a University in Southern Tunisia called Sfax, which became the center of many student protests at the start of the "Arab Spring".
"Tunisia's military is unique among the Arab Spring countries in that it sided with the people immediately, and refused to shoot its citizens," says Anne Alexander, UW's International Programs director. "There were lots of protests, but the military took the citizens' side -- civilian control of the military. Part of that may be the influence of the Wyoming National Guard, and part of that was that the president who was overthrown wanted to keep the military small and uninfluential in government affairs."
UW also supported interactions among the College of Business, the Wyoming Technology Business Center and a center for young entrepreneurs in Tunisia that was active in the revolution. Ambassador Gray has been impressed with UW's interactions over the years, and wanted to come to UW to see what steps can be taken to renew the relationship with Tunisia now that things are beginning to settle following the revolution.
Such visits by influential world leaders are not uncommon at UW. In recent years, UW has hosted Zhou Wenzhong, China's ambassador to the United States, and John Bruton, the European Union's ambassador to the United States, among others. Former President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, will speak at UW Friday, Oct. 14, at 3:30 p.m. in the Arena-Auditorium.
Photos used in this story courtesy of the International Photo Contest held at the University of Wyoming. Images of Tunisia on this page shot by Evan Baker, image in revolving feature was shot by Meghan Renee Lockhart and photos of Ambassador Gray courtesy of the U.S. Department of State.