Tunisia and the Arab Spring: the success of the Awakening
Author: Pierre Varasi
The 23rd November 2014 Tunisia dealt with its first democratic elections since its birth in the ‘50s, after obtaining independence. Since that moment, the Neo Destour party, one of the most repressive and authoritarian of the Arab world, has led the country. The demonstrations that since the end of 2010 have concerned all Tunisian cities, originating the so-called ‘Jasmine Revolution’, inspired the Arab Spring, considered a revolutionary movement that should have brought democracy to all the states involved (from Morocco to Yemen). Unfortunately, in most of them what the Arab Awakening left has nothing to do with democracy: instability is everywhere, with a civil war in Syria, militaries in power in Egypt and terroristic groups that threaten peace.
Tunisia is perhaps the only exception among these countries, the silver lining of years of internal fights. The elections, followed by a second ballot the 22nd December, saw the victory of Bèji Caïd Essebsi, of the moderate party Nidaa Tounes, that defines itself as secular, social democratic, liberal and innovative. The party won with the 55.68% of total votes, opening a new chapter of Tunisia’s history, and this should bring to the country’s stabilization.
We are now waiting for the creation of the government, expected this month, and from that moment, it is all downhill. Nonetheless, as always in today’s globalized world, internal work, as necessary as it is, will not be enough. Before the protests that began in 2010 the 7% of the country’s GDP consisted in tourism, and it will be difficult to bring it back to those levels, after these hard times. Economy has almost always gone hand in hand with democracy, and as much as the causal connection is not clear, it is easy to understand that a working economy will be in the next months one of the most important factor in deciding the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of the new government, its length and outcome.
While in a stable country economic problems can lead, in the worst scenario, to new elections, in a democratically fragile and young state, close to even more unstable countries, we cannot consider the attempts to make things work properly unlimited. Politicians and the population itself cannot underestimate the risk of an ‘authoritarian fall back’. An economic growth is definitely more important here than anywhere else. The institute of microcredit, which was born in Bangladesh in the ‘70s, has a decisive role here, as in all ‘Third World’ countries; however, the growth has to come both from the government as well as from national and international entities to be enduring.
Reforms have already begun, and from January 2015 the new financial law will be effective. Presented by the finance minister Hakim Ben Hammouda, the law includes, among different actions, that the offshore companies operating in Tunisia will be able to allocate 50% of their production to the sale in local markets, limit previously of the 30%. Moreover, investments will be encouraged with the reduction of taxes for new industries and with the revision of VAT to 6% for imported machineries.
Foreign investment will save Tunisia, and the government knows it, as the economic provisions show. Funds from the EU, that in 2014 has invested around 201 million euro in its economy and territory, will help the country too. Ten more million have been recently donated through subsidies, such as helping small agricultural entrepreneurships that will absorb five of these. Two will be invested in the management of a program for agricultural development, and the remaining three will reinforce an already existing program that works in the Medenine governorship, still with an agricultural and environmental aim.
In 2015, the International Monetary Fund predicts a growth of 3%, a decrease in the level of inflation, especially thanks to the recent fiscal reforms that the government is implementing, and a deficit decrease from 7.9 to 6.6% of GDP. The forecasts are therefore positive, and this will not only have consequences for the economy, which will definitely grow, but it should bring political and social stability. The stabilization and growth of the country is nonetheless threatened by the tensions in the Maghreb region and in the Middle East, and in particular by what is going to happen in Libya. Only a direct response of the Govern to social problems as youth unemployment and gender inequality present in the country will make Tunisia the very first success of the Arab Spring.