Turkey grants Tunisia $100m aid; Report warns stalling democratic transition

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Man waving a loaf of bread during a protest in Tunis during January 2011 mass uprising against Ben Ali regime. Photo - Talel Nacer

Tunisia’s Economy Minister Ridha Saidi said Turkey will grant $100 million in aid to help Tunis overcome its social and economic difficulties, and bounce back from socio-economic crisis that has mired the North African country since December 2010.

The accord was signed between the two countries during the World Economic Forum which concluded in Turkey on weekend. The aid deal also included a $400 million low interest loan package.

The Tunisian economy minister said that the country is seeking a total of $600 million in aid from a number of countries, which would help the post-Ben Ali government meet its financial obligations. Saidi added that Washington has promised another $100 million aid grant.

Meanwhile, the International Crisis Group warned that Tunisia still faces a risk of new social upheaval as the new democratic government has been unable to address the desperate economic situation that helped spark the popular uprising last year.

The Brussels-based organisation said in its report that the government needs to do more to tackle rising unemployment, regional economic discrepancies and corruption.

“It so far has been unable to address them rapidly enough and is failing to quell the impatience of workers and unemployed youth who expect to reap the fruits of their involvement in past struggles,” said the report. “Economic grievances are churning right below the surface. They could once again reach full boil.”

Tunisia was the first Arab country that saw an uprising against former President Zine Al Abedin Ben Ali who ruled the country for 27 years before getting toppled in January 2011. The swift success of the pro-democratic uprising spread across the Middle East region. The North African country of 10 million is under close observation as it transitions from dictatorship to democracy.

Tunisians have already elected a new assembly to run the country and write a new constitution.

Al Nahda, a moderate Islamist party long oppressed by the Tunisian establishment, dominated the elections and formed a coalition government with two secular parties in December last year. However, it is struggling to offer short-term economic solutions to the masses.

Tunisian economy shrank 1.8% last year due to the uprising and an economic crisis in Europe, its main trading partner. Tourist numbers have dwindled and a flight of investment has brought the economy to a standstill.

The ICG  reports said hundreds of thousands of Tunisian youth face an uncertain future as jobs remain scarce and unemployment stubbornly high. Occasional job offers have prompted tribal battles in impoverished rural regions, leaving dozens dead since the revolution, the report said.

“The state has failed to restore its authority in several regions – indeed, it appears to be limping along ever since the dissolution of the omnipotent former ruling party. Corruption persists and provokes discontent and indignation,” the report added.

Tunisia’s democratic transition has on the whole been more peaceful and stable compared to its eastern neighbours, the study noted. It warned that if new jobs are not created quickly, especially in the impoverished regions, the transition to democracy could be threatened.

The Tunisian economy minister said the government has launched a number of development projects in recent weeks aimed at creating jobs in marginalised areas.

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