Algerian president visits Tunisia to discuss economic, political issues

Tunisia said Tuesday it had received a loan from its neighbor Algeria, the day before a visit by Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.

The official journal said that President Kais Saied had signed off a deal reached on December 9 for “a loan worth $300 million,” around 266 million euros.

Tunisia’s public finances have been battered by a decade of political instability, low investment and structural problems, with debts approaching 100 percent of GDP and unemployment at 18 percent.

Saied on July 25 sacked the government and seized an array of powers, but has not laid out a plan to rescue the country’s dire economy, despite announcing plans on Monday night for constitutional reforms and new elections in 2022.

Tunisia’s economy has grown at just 0.6 percent a year since its 2011 revolution, while inflation has surged at six percent a year.

An unwelcoming business environment has discouraged investors.

The COVID-19 pandemic made the situation in the North African country far worse, slashing jobs in the vital tourism sector, high commodity prices have hurt reserves, and a drought has battered farmers.

Tunis has received economic aid from the European Union and is seeking its fourth aid program in 10 years from the International Monetary Fund, aiming to receive a loan of nearly $4 billion before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Saied’s opponents on Tuesday slammed his decision to extend a months-long suspension of parliament, accusing him of dealing another blow to the country’s nascent democracy.

The former law professor announced an 11-week “popular consultation” to produce “draft constitutional and other reforms” ahead of a referendum next July 25.

That will mark one year since his power grab, which came as the North African country wallowed in political and economic crises compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.

Saied had in October moved to rule by decree, escalating fears for the only democracy to have emerged from the 2011 Arab uprisings.

He said on Monday that parliament would remain suspended until new elections on December 17 next year, the anniversary of the start of the revolution that chased dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power.

That further isolated his nemesis, the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, which has played a central role in Tunisian politics since Ben Ali’s fall.

Many Tunisians, tired of a system seen as dysfunctional and corrupt, welcomed Saied’s moves, but he has also faced growing opposition in the form of demonstrations at home and pressure from abroad.

The envoys of the G7 powers plus the European Union had urged Tunisia on Friday to set a timeline for a return to democratic institutions.

Political analyst Slaheddine Jourchi said Saied was “determined to push through his political project to the end.”

Opponents have accused Saied of seeking to extend his one-man rule and unilaterally rebuild the political system.

Noureddine Taboubi, head of the powerful UGTT trades union, criticized the lack of a vision for tackling the country’s pressing social and economic woes.

In a speech to union members, he said the union had supported Saied’s July 25 moves but that “we didn’t give (him) a blank cheque.”

Yet some in Tunis welcomed Saied’s latest move.

Saied said a consultation on constitutional reforms would be launched on January 1, via custom-built electronic platforms.

Nizar ben Ahmida, a 37-year-old teacher, stressed the importance of announcing a timeline.
Tunis resident Nidhal said the election date was too far away.

These proposals would then be examined by a committee of experts appointed by the president, before being put to referendum.

But former Ennahdha MP Samir Dilou said the idea would “make Tunisia an object of ridicule.”
“The street isn’t reassured. The economic situation is what concerns the Tunisian public,” said Jourchi.


Arab Observer

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