Rene Trabelsi: Jewish-Tunisian Appointed as Minister of Tourism and Handicrafts

Illustration by Ali al-Mandalawi


  1. Trabelsi was born in the Tunisian Djerba Island, which is situated in the Mediterranean Sea near Libya. This island is home to El Ghriba Synagogue which Rene’s father, Perez Trabelsi is the president of. Every year, thousands of visitors from all over the world make a religious pilgrimage to the synagogue.
  2. After graduating high school in Djerba, Rene continued his education in France. In 1990, he founded the “Royal First Travel” travel agency, which serves 300,000 French travelers to Tunisia.
  3. Throughout his career, he has constantly travelled between Paris, Tunisia and Djerba to perfect his tourism services.
  4. Historically, Tunisia’s Jewish community has played a vital role in reviving the state’s economy after its independence in 1956. Tunisian Jews have also had a civic role in Tunisia, for instance Jewish Tunisian Albert Bessis was a member of the 1955 government that led to Tunisia’s independence. Moreover, the country’s first president Habib Bourguiba appointed Andre Barouch, another Tunisian Jew, as one of his close aids. As such, Rene Trebelsi will be the third Jew to serve in the Tunisian government since the country’s independence.
  5. It should be noted that there has been a significant decrease in the Jewish population in Tunisia due to years of mass migration out of the country. The three historical landmarks that saw the largest Jewish evacuations are: the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948, Tunisia’s independence in 1956 and the Arab defeat in the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War.
  6. As such, Bourguiba gave a speech beseeching the country’s Jews to stay as they are full blooded Tunisian citizens.
  7. Back to the present day, the current Head of the Tunisian Government, Youssef Chahed, recently decided to reshuffle the government posts, as a result of his conflict with President Beji Caid Essebsi. When Chahed named the new ministerial holders, both old and new names were mentioned, however when he named Trebelsi, a Jewish Tunisian, as Minister of Tourism he caused a quite a stir among both the people of Tunisia and of the wider Arab world.
  8. The Tunisian Head of Government’s decision to appoint a Jewish-Tunisian man has resulted in a number of different responses varying from latent celebration and skepticism to cautious optimism and admiration. However, the real praise will not occur unless Trebelesi successfully brings back tourists to Tunisia and revives the country’s tourism industry.


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