Despite the recent attacks and anti-terror laws introduced, Tunisia remains a smart long-term investment in North Africa. The recent tragic attacks have slowed progress, but Tunisia shows much potential for the future.
Tunisia has gone through many political changes since 2011 – from forcing President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country as a result of violent and persistent protests, to electing the first Tunisian Constituent Assembly and President Moncef Marzouki to office. This resulted in the drafting of the country’s new constitution in 2014, and the shift away from the state of emergency that had been introduced in 2011. Elections were held again in October 2014, seeing the victory of current President Beji Caid Essebsi.
For the past few years, positive change seemed to have become the norm in Tunisia, until two violent attacks on tourists occurred within a few months of each other, at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, and at a tourist resort close to the city of Sousse. In an attempt to control the situation, the Essebsi government initially announced a 30-day state of emergency, which has been extended. The government has also passed a new ‘anti-terror’ law, extending police powers, in an attempt to battle the threat of terrorism, and regain the confidence of the international community.
Tunisia seemed to be changing for the better, so why are these attacks occurring, and why is the government shifting back towards Ben Ali-esque methods?
Stability versus openness
The theory explored in Dr. Ian Bremmer’s The J-Curve: A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall, published in 2006, can be useful in understanding Tunisia in this instance. This theory involves the idea that all nations can be placed on a graph comparing ‘stability’ and ‘openness’. Movement along this graph can be observed in the shape of the letter J. In order to obtain more openness, countries must go through a period of instability, as they go through the dip of the J.
The regime of Ben Ali was arguably relatively stable for many years, while openness was low. The lack of openness, transparency, and proper representation resulted in the Arab Spring protests, as Tunisians had had enough of unemployment, human rights violations, and corruption, among other factors.
Tunisia has become more open, with a new constitution, internationally recognized elections, and more accountable leadership – meaning that under Bremmer’s framework, Tunisia is moving down into the dip of the ‘J’ towards a more open society. Time spent in this ‘dip’ means that there will be less stability, and more potential crises on the way towards this openness. In a way, this helps to explain why Tunisia is experiencing more tumult, even though they are seemingly bettering the lives of their people.
Unemployment the recurring issue
One of the methods to tackle the issue of instability is to look at the historically high unemployment rate in Tunisia. Since 2005, unemployment has not been lower than 12.4%, and the rate currently sits at 15.3%. Tunisia’s population is largely made up of people less than 25 years old, many of whom are educated, but unemployed.
Tourism, one of Tunisia’s most significant industries, will be hit the hardest following these attacks – understandably, if people do not feel safe, they will not venture to spend time in the country. Therefore, many of the tourism industry workers, some of whom risked their lives during the most recent Sousse attacks, will lose their jobs, as the hotels and resorts they work at will have a very difficult time reaching necessary attendance.
This sense of danger explains the Tunisian government’s motivation for anti-terror laws, as well as their extension of the state of emergency. In a way, the government is reacting to the instability created by the increase in openness. The economy therefore must develop, grow, and diversify in other ways to maintain the openness already experienced, and to make the country more stable.
Tunisia’s potential involves the young and educated population, which constitutes a skilled labour force for the region. Tunisia has recently been cited a new start-up hotspot. Access to more resources and technology has allowed the young and educated population of the country to tap into a market not seen before.
External companies should explore Tunisia’s willing workforce, recognizing that even though there are certain security risks at present, there are ways to mitigate these in the short-term. Over the long-term, the continued investment and expansion of the economy will become mitigation enough, especially as the government continues on its route to openness and transparency, and Tunisia is further welcomed into the democratic world.