News / Middle East

    Tunisia Seeks to Boost Regional Economic Ties

    FILE - Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki reacts as he signs the new Constitution in Tunis, Jan. 27, 2014
    FILE - Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki reacts as he signs the new Constitution in Tunis, Jan. 27, 2014
    Mohamed Elshinnawi
    During a surprise visit to Tunisia recently, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praised the country saying it could be a “model to other peoples seeking reforms.”  

    While Tunisia’s political transition has been praised as a regional model, the country’s economy has stagnated.  Discontent over the economy exploded in January when strikes and riots largely shut down the country after new taxes were imposed by the government.  While the taxes were rescinded, Tunisia’s government continues to struggle to revive the economy. 

    As part of that effort Tunisia’s President Moncef Marzouki has pledged to revive The Arab Maghreb Union, a regional organization founded in 1989 to  promote trade and political ties between its five members; Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania.

    Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy in Washington says Marzouki’s efforts make sense. 

    “The Tunisian revolution was about jobs and economic opportunities. Economic development requires a bigger market with free trade partners and investment in economic ventures, so reviving the union could help pull the economies of its members who have a lot in common.” Masmoudi said.

    Earlier efforts to foster regional cooperation broke down over the decades-long dispute between Morocco and Algeria over the Western Sahara.

    Masmoudi says Tunisia has a role to play in helping to bring the two sides together. “Tunisia can be a mediator in trying to reach an acceptable solution to that dispute which prevented the Union from succeeding.”

    But William Lawrence, a Professor of International Relations at George Washington University and a Senior Fellow at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) disagrees.

    “2013 was a bad year for Algerian-Moroccan relations, they had several disputes over the same issue and given the Moroccan appetite for scoring points internationally on the Western Sahara issue, I don’t see much chance for a Tunisian role any time soon,” he said. 

    Masmoudi says Tunisia can still benefit from both Morocco and Algeria.

    “Morocco has a thriving economy, so there are tremendous opportunities for economic cooperation that creates badly needed jobs and Algeria is a very rich neighbor with surplus capital that can be invested in Tunisian agriculture and tourism,” he said.
     
    Lawrence agrees, saying regardless of the tensions between Algeria and Morocco Tunisian efforts to revive the Union serve all members.

    “All of the Maghreb states are very aware that they lose several points of their respective gross domestic production GDP every year by not having a unified economic activity,” he said.

    Tunisia’s economic problems stem in part from the global economic downturn – especially in the EU countries – which are Tunisia’s main trade partner.  So while it is trying to revive the Arab Maghreb Union, Tunisia is also working to develop trade with regional powers like Iran and Turkey.

    Tunisia reduced customs duties on imports from Turkey, an early supporter of its revolution.  Turkey’s economy minister recently said that Turkish companies have invested $744 million in Tunisia with more to come.  Turkey also provided a critical $500-million assistance package immediately following Tunisia’s revolution.

    Masmoudi says Turkish economic support has been a boon to Tunisia.  “Turkey has become a major economic super power in the region and with its swift support to the Tunisian revolution it became a main partner in energizing Tunisian economy and in technology transfer,” he said.

    Tunisian officials have also been outspoken in their diplomatic support for Iran, with President Marzouki criticizing efforts to isolate Tehran over its nuclear program.   In a recent meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Tunisia’s ambassador in Tehran pledged to expand trade and political ties. 
    William Lawrence says however Tunisia’s outreach to Tehran is more political than economic.

    “Islamists in general have always been long inspired by the 1979 Iranian revolution and in particular Iran’s stance with regard to the Palestinian issue,” he said.

    Radwan Masmoudi says regardless of where it finds economic partners it’s vital that Tunisia do so if its revolution and its transition to democracy are to succeed.  

    “For the last three years Tunisia focused on developing its democratic institutions and recently ratified a new constitution, but at the end of the day people would like to have jobs and food on their tables. Democracy has to deliver economic development so people can feel that the Tunisian revolution improved their livelihood,” said Masmoudi.

    You May Like

    Russian-speaking Muslim Exiles Fear Possible Russia-Turkey Thaw

    Exiled from Russia as Islamic radicals and extremists, thousands found asylum in Turkey

    US Presidential Election Ends at Conventions for Territorial Citizens

    Citizens of US territories like Guam or Puerto Rico enjoy participation in US political process but are denied right to vote for president

    UN Syria Envoy: 'Devil Is in the Details' of Russian Aleppo Proposal

    UN uncertain about the possible humanitarian impact of Russian proposal to establish escape corridors in Aleppo

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Sara from: Tunisia
    March 04, 2014 11:45 AM
    Politics now in the Arab world are a special "tajine" where you should mix many lies, so much hypocrisy, a slice of greed, a spoon of lust and so much loyalty to Big Brother, all should be mixed and cooked on a hot fire:(((((((( that's really pathetic,Allah protect Tunisia and all Arab countries that deserve good future...

    by: amir from: tunisia
    March 01, 2014 11:59 AM
    Moncef Marzouki is a sorry excuse for a president he can't say good morning without lying twice Every word that comes out of his mouth is a complete and total lie
    BTW ,your section is wrong Tunisia is in north Africa not the middle east .(-‸ლ)

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora