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U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia to Speak at UW

September 20, 2011
Gordon Gray, the United States ambassador to Tunisia, will speak Tuesday, Sept. 27, at the University of Wyoming.

Gordon Gray, the United States ambassador who witnessed the tumultuous revolution that brought sweeping changes to Tunisia, will speak Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 10 a.m. in Room 306 of the University of Wyoming Classroom Building.

When the first pro-democracy protests started in Tunisia last December, Ambassador Gray observed first-hand the beginnings of the "Arab Spring" 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 freedom and a new era of individual rights for the Tunisian people.

Gray will share his experiences and observations during a town hall sponsored by UW International Programs, continuing the university emphasis on providing internationalization opportunities for both students and faculty members. He will 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 will also help 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."

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.

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