The Foreign Service Journal, January-February 2021

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2021 45 excellent partners and stayed the course through the transition and beyond. The National Democratic Institute and Interna- tional Republican Institute (both of which were anathema to the Ben Ali regime) were on the ground days after it collapsed. Humanitarian NGOs (and, separately, the U.S. Agency for Inter- national Development’s Disaster Assistance Response Team) brought much-needed expertise to Tunisia’s southern border when third-country workers fled the brewing civil war in Libya. 11. Don’t forget to have fun. One of the most memorable days in my diplomatic career was Oct. 23, 2011, when Tunisia held its first truly free and fair elections. Tunisia had a wealth of election observers, from our embassy, which put together a robust observation program, to U.S. and Western NGOs, to Tunisian civil society. As a result, my participation was not necessary. But I would have kicked myself later had I not gone to polling stations that day and seen the long lines of Tunisians waiting patiently in the autumn sunlight to cast their first meaningful ballot. Some carried flags and others brought their children to mark the historic event. Moments like that are why we join the Foreign Service: to observe history in the making and, perhaps, to help nudge it in the right direction. 12. Finally, always remember that diplomacy is about people, not abstract concepts. Shortly after Ben Ali fled the country, a prominent member of civil society who was tapped to join the national unity government explained to me the root cause of the revolution: “Poverty and unemployment exist everywhere; this happened because of a loss of dignity and a lack of dialogue.” These two factors—loss of dignity and lack of dialogue—led directly to the wave of protests and demonstrations that swept North Africa and the Middle East in 2011, and continue to this day in some countries in the region. They also help explain the wide- spread demonstrations in the United States against systemic racism after George Floyd was killed. Be it at home or abroad, recent history teaches us that we ignore the importance of human dignity and honest dialogue at our own peril. n