Tunisians are often left befuddled as to why their moderately prosperous country does not host a single McDonald’s. There is a lousy knock-off known as McDoolie or something like that.
But it is striking that Tunisia does not have even one McDonald’s. The market can certainly afford it. McDonald’s operates in a lot poorer countries and Tunisians are quite generous in their spending on sandwiches which cost more than an average McD burger (and a lot healthier and more tasty as well).
So why not Tunisia? Morocco and Egypt have ones. But no Tunisia. The official explanation Tunisians cite is a despite between the government and McDonald’s over meat purchases. The first reason is simple: the government wants McDonald’s to purchase Tunisian meat for its burgers because only then can they be certified as Halal. But this is dubious since McDonald’s can certify Halal meat (as it does in Morocco, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim nations) without buying from a domestic source. The second reason: the government wants McDonald’s to buy domestic meat not because of Halal but just to benefit the Tunisian meat industry with a lucrative contract. The cynicism here is closer to the truth in that it reflects often the corruption in the Tunisian government, but still false.
But those were the reasons floated by Tunisians – feud by their government – to explain the oddity of a McDonald-free nation which is actually quite open to the world and boasts many other foreign products (including fast-food chains). And Tunisians really came to believe this and resigned themselves to this. It was tolerable because both reasons suggest the government is looking out for the best interests of Tunisian in terms of Islam and economics.
But, not surprising, it was all false. A recent Wikileaks leak reveals the real reason as reported by the U.S. embassy in Tunis:
Nevertheless, there are still several examples of
foreign companies or investors being pressured into joining
with the “right” partner. The prime example remains
McDonald’s failed entry into Tunisia. When McDonald’s chose
to limit Tunisia to one franchisee not of the GOT’s choosing,
the whole deal was scuttled by the GOT’s refusal to grant the
necessary authorization and McDonald’s unwillingness to play
the game by granting a license to a franchisee with Family
This news should give Tunisians a bad ache in their gut.