No visitors, no pilgrimage to the historic Al-Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba. This year's unprecedented cancellation is a sure sign that Tunisia's tourist industry has all but collapsed. Visitor numbers had only just begun recovering from the al-Qaeda bombing of 2005, until the Tunisian uprising a few months ago set off a chain reaction across the Arab world. |AFP reports:
TUNIS — A pilgrimage drawing thousands annually to a Tunisia synagogue that is reputedly the oldest in Africa has been called off because security fears are keeping visitors away, organisers said Monday.
It is the first time in at least 20 years that there will not be a pilgrimage to the ancient Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba, the head of Tunisia's Jewish community, Perez Trabelsi, told AFP.
A ritual in which visitors light candles in the synagogue and are blessed by rabbis will go ahead as usual on Friday and Sunday, Trabelsi said by telephone from the tourist island.
"At the same time, the fete and auction for the profit of the Jewish community and the procession in the roads around the synagogue has been cancelled because of a lack of foreign visitors," he said.
Tunisia has struggled to stabilise since January when weeks of gathering protests forced authoritarian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee, ending 23 years in power.
Protests have continued against the transitional authority, while the uprising in Libya led thousands of refugees to cross into Tunisia and has seen clashes flare on the border.
"People are afraid of the security situation in the country," Trabelsi said.
Another Jewish leader, Rene Trabelsi, also cited the bombing that killed 17 people in Morocco late last month, and the killing of Osama bin Laden for which Al-Qaeda has vowed revenge.
The "attack in Marrakesh, the death of Bin Laden, the situation on the border (with Libya) which is worsening, and the recent violence in Tunis with the imposition of a curfew" had discouraged visitors, he said.
"The Tunisian Jewish community does not really have the heart right now to hold the festival while the Tunisian people are living in worry and insecurity," he said.