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PM: Tunisia ripe for recovery from 2011 chaos

TUNIS: Tunisia has stabilized from the fallout of the 2011 revolution and is now ripe for investment in its battered economy, Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa said in an interview.

Speaking ahead of the “Invest in Tunisia: Startup democracy” conference to be held Monday, Jomaa said Tunisia’s new government was upbeat but realistic about a recovery.

“We expect a strong signal from the entire political, financial and business communities to say that today there’s confidence in Tunisia’s future,” the premier said.

“We also expect our partners to spend and to actually invest in projects,” added Jomaa, who came to power in January tasked with leading Tunisia out of a political crisis and preparing fresh elections.

Thirty countries are to attend the conference aimed at showcasing investment opportunities in Tunisia, seen as the last hope among nations swept by pro-democracy protests known as the Arab Spring.

But Jomaa declined to declare his expectations, noting that at “donor conferences, we have seen that it doesn’t work: They create hope but achieve little.”

The purpose of the conference “is not to put forward figures, but rather to generate interest” in projects that are to be presented Monday.

The central bank said this week that Tunisia’s economic growth slowed to 2 percent in the second quarter of 2014 compared with 2.8 percent in the same period last year.

A recovery is all the more important for Tunisia as poverty and unemployment were among the key issues that sparked the 2011 uprising that toppled Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

In the wake of the uprising, Tunisia was rocked by violence blamed on hard-line Islamists who were suppressed under the former dictator, paralyzing the country’s institutions and its economy.

Jomaa heads an independent government tasked with leading Tunisia out of the festering crisis fueled by jihadist violence and mistrust between the Islamist Ennahda Party – the majority in the assembly – and its opponents.

In the interview, Jomaa assured that Tunisia was evolving “from a planned and politically oppressive state to one that is rather regulatory.”

“There are a few years of sacrifice that we must see out,” he said.

“We have worked on macroeconomic stabilization and on reducing the state budget deficit, but the economy goes through long cycles: Decisions are taken today and the benefits are seen in two, three years.”

Asked about the threat of jihadists ahead of elections for a new parliament on Oct. 26 and president on Nov. 23, Jomaa said measures were being taken to bolster security and avoid any more instability.

“The risks exist but we are confronting these fears ... We have a clear idea of the reality and don’t have any fears.

“What we are trying to build is in opposition to the model that the terrorists and those behind them are trying to impose.”

The Interior Ministry has said it is aware that militants are planning to launch attacks aimed at disrupting the upcoming elections.

“They will not to derail this process ... We have faith, we are organized and vigilant. We can suffer blows but we’ll make progress.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 05, 2014, on page 5.

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