News / Africa

Struggling Tunisian Economy Gets Boost From Libyan Conflict

Wissem Abdennadher speaks to a potential customer at the Sfax business fair
Wissem Abdennadher speaks to a potential customer at the Sfax business fair

More than six months after its revolution, the North African country of Tunisia is struggling to get back on its feet. Tourism has plummeted. Tunisians have emigrated in droves. But from the industrial city of Sfax, the economy is getting a boost from an unexpected source - Libya.

A thriving family business

The sound is deafening as Nabil Triki tours his factory. In one room, machines are pumping out small rectangles of his Florida brand chewing gum. Candy production is only one part of Triki's business, which is located on the outskirts of Tunisia's southern industrial city of Sfax. The family company also processes poultry -- and business is booming for both...thanks to one particularly demanding customer: Libya.

Triki says that since Libya's rebel uprising began in February, that country's industrial production has ground to a halt. He says Libyans now rely extensively on neighboring Tunisia and Egypt for their food imports.

Triki says his small factory can't meet the Libyan demand. He's buying new equipment - and hiring more workers.

Libya's conflict - Tunisia's economic revival

But the Libyan conflict has had a two-fold impact.

Khalil Charfi, spokesman for Tunisia's employers' union UTICA, says many Tunisian businesses have been forced to close their operations in Libya.  Critical remittances have dried up as thousands of Tunisian workers headed home. And this small North African country is overwhelmed by thousands of refugees who fled Libya.

All this is adding to an already tough economic situation since this country's own popular revolt in January, which ousted long-term ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Tunisians have left in droves aboard rickety boats, heading for Europe and - they hope - to a better life. Tourists - the country's economic lifeline - still shy away, fearing more unrest. Government statistics show tourism revenues dropped 50 percent in the first half of this year.

Post-revolution Tunisia

As Tunisia lobbied for foreign assistance during the May G8 summit in France, Finance Minister Jalloul Ayed said getting the economy back on track is critical to consolidating its fledgling democracy. "Because if Tunisians don't feel very quickly that democracy is creating the conditions for them to feel better, to feel more prosperous, then we run the risk to see that democratic process fail in the end," he said.

In the capital Tunis, the bustling old Medina is bereft of the summer-time tourists who normally pack its narrow streets. Mahmoud Abdellewi, who sells leather goods, misses them. "We need clients making a tour of the Mediterranean...France or Spain, American, English. A lot from many countries. But this time, we only have Russian people and Poland we really need help, from England, from America, from Beverly Hills!" Abdellewi stated.

Just outside Tunis, the whitewashed Mediterranean town of Sidi Bou Said is also unusually quiet. But 50-year-old jasmine seller Khmais is philosophical.

Jasmine seller Kmais at Sidi Bou Said
Jasmine seller Kmais at Sidi Bou Said

Khmais says business is going slowly. But there are some tourists. And things are better since Ben Ali's departure. People are able to live and work in peace.

In Sfax, many people are also guardedly upbeat. In the evenings, hundreds pack the city's annual business fair, checking out home furnishings and mobile phone offers.  

Fifty-three-year old Jallel Abdellewi is among them. "The business is not yet. It's not like before. But it's going to be better with the time," he said.

Wissem Abdennadher, who sells water purifying products at the fair, agrees business is slowly picking up.

Abdennadher says the people of Sfax are beginning to adapt to post-revolution Tunisia. Like factory owner Triki, he's seeing new demand from Libya.

Both men believe Tunisian companies will bounce back - helping to reconstruct not only their own nation, but also neighboring Libya... after that popular revolt is over.


Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs