Mon, Jun 06, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Tunisia seeks way between unrest and uncertainty


Nearly five months after a popular uprising swept former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power in the first days of the “Arab Spring” Tunisia looks to rebuild an economy mired in political uncertainty.

Tunisia, used to posting at least 5 percent annual growth, faces stagnation this year as the authorities try to meet rising aspirations, hold elections and limit the fallout from unrest in neighbor Libya.

Unemployment, which ultimately drove the unrest against the old regime, could reach 20 percent of the workforce this year, up from 13 percent last year, the government admits.

“The revolution is making existing problems even worse in dramatic fashion at a difficult time,” Tunisian economist Mohamed Ben Ramdhane said. “Instability is hurting tourism and investors don’t like unstable conditions.”

Since Tunisia’s popular revolt sparked the region-wide Arab Spring, the country has regained relative calm, but tensions remain: There are strikes, fear of al--Qaeda and of the Libyan crisis on its borders bringing thousands of refugees.

On the political front, a transitional government is still in place, but is at pains to meet electoral deadlines and hand over power.

The longer the uncertainty remains, the slower the return of tourists, who supported about 400,000 jobs in a sector accounting for nearly 7 percent of GDP.

With official numbers forecasting a 41 percent drop in tourists and a 48 percent drop in revenues, this year’s tourist season will be sluggish.

Foreign investors are skittish. Direct foreign investment, a key driver for job growth, crashed 25 percent over the first four months of the year compared to the same period last year, according to the Tunisian foreign investment agency.

Some analysts say there are positive signs despite the problems.

Exports — electrical goods, agriculture, textiles — increased 11 percent in the first quarter of the year and the harvest outlook seems promising.

Meanwhile, the international community has promised US$40 billion to support democratic change in the Arab world.

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