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Mongi Boughzala

An economist’s perspective of post-revolution Tunisia’s challenges

by Executive Editors

Although Egypt, Bahrain and Libya largely pushed Tunisia out of the media spotlight in February, the story from the cradle of 2011’s wave of revolt remains unfinished. Executive asked Tunisian economist Mongi Boughzala of the University of Tunis El Manar about some of the outstanding issues facing Tunisia and the region after the fall of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

  • The poor economic situation facing many Tunisians was a driving force behind the revolution there. How do you see these conditions changing in the wake of the revolution?

The economic situation and the unemployment and all of those issues cannot be resolved in a few days or even a few months. They are the outcome of years of bad economic management. [But] if we stabilize the country politically and really achieve democratic transition then there is a very good future for Tunisia. 

  • Before the revolution, Tunisia had a reputation as being stable and a relatively good business environment. Are foreign investors leaving? Have any new ones come in?

New investors are not going to come in now. It’s obvious because even if they are happy with what happened they are going to have to wait and see because they want more stability. Luckily, so far there hasn’t been a massive outflow of capital — a few have left but not so many. It’s okay, I mean in terms of capital and investment and FDI [Foreign Direct Investment].  But some firms are not working as they used to because of the strikes and unrest. But massive investment? Not right now — the political situation needs to stabilize before we can reap the benefits.

  • After the fall of Ben Ali, protests have continued. When do you see things returning to normal?

It depends on how it is dealt with. The current government has been very clumsy in terms of communicating. It hasn’t had the mechanism and way of communicating with people — especially the youth. But I think we are coming to some sort of consensus, which is that maybe in five or six months there is going to be an election — not just for parliament, but also constitutional. This is something that a lot of people have been demanding, and it’s also something that most people agree on. My only fear is that people will not agree very quickly on which kind of transition government is now going to be put in place. We don’t have one voice; there are too many voices. 

  • How are Tunisians surviving economically right now with all of the disruptions?

Some are hurt. Especially those who have lost their jobs [because their] firms are not operating. A lot of people working in the informal sector are having trouble finding jobs because the economy has not returned to the normal level. Tourism is not functioning — certainly a lot of people are hurt and are losing their jobs because of that. Many economic activities are disrupted. But for the moment, it’s okay. It hasn’t been the main problem. The main problem is more on the political side — if we agree on a roadmap or agenda that has been accepted by the majority of the people, the people will start thinking of the future and building needed institutions. 

  • Do you think that Egypt — which overthrew its regime weeks after Tunisia did — is going to face similar problems in the near future?

Probably, yes. You know, there’s something good: it’s that the youth have awakened. They want change, they want a better country, they want a better situation, they want better governance and they require real change. This is a dilemma because it’s very hard to achieve the type of change they are asking for.  Something has to be done to convince them that it’s coming and they’re part of it. It’s up to them to do something about it – they shouldn’t just wait for the government to hand them what they want just like that. And I think Egyptians — the young ones — have started expressing this.

“We don’t have one voice; there are too many voices”

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Executive Editors

Executive Editors are the collective voice of the magazine. Stories written by Executive Editors are the culmination of discussions, brainstorming, research and information-gathering by our editorial team. Over decades, our editorial team has applied a blend of seasoned expertise and a discerning eye to bring you insightful and engaging and substantive reads that eschew sensationalism.
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