Since passing its new constitution in January 2014—which has been described by some as one of the most progressive in the region—Tunisia has continued its post-revolution transition to a permanent government. Most recently, in early May 2014, Tunisia’s 217-member National Constituent Assembly approved a new electoral law. In addition to requiring male-female parity in party lists, the new law does not ban officials who served under former president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali (ousted in the 2011 Tunisian revolution after nearly 22 years as president) from pursuing office in the new permanent government. Such a ban was debated and ultimately rejected by the Assembly (by a single vote). Passing this new electoral law now allows Tunisian authorities to set a date for presidential and parliamentary elections (which may be scheduled for this upcoming November, according to the head of the Independent Election Commission).
But as the political roadmap continues to evolve in Tunisia, it does so against the backdrop of an economic situation which has reached a “critical and difficult” stage, according to Tunisian Minister of Finance Hakim Ben Hammouda. Foreign direct investment in Tunisia reportedly fell by 19.3 percent in the first quarter of 2014, as compared to the same quarter one year ago. And a worsening trade deficit cut currency reserves to about 93 days of import cover, as of late April 2014. The circumstances are so challenging that salaries and pensions for government workers may be in jeopardy. Minister Ben Hammouda has said that the government is “trying to find the funds to meet the obligations of the government” and that the coming period in Tunisia will not be one of austerity.
Nevertheless, in recent months, Tunisia has seen its fair share of international support. In April 2014, the International Monetary Fund agreed to disburse $225 million to Tunisia (bringing total payments to $888 million since the IMF and Tunisia signed an agreement in 2013). Also this year, the World Bank announced a $1.2 billion program of support, and Japan has guaranteed $250 million in loans. French President Francois Hollande has announced a UN-sponsored conference in Tunis in September 2014 to encourage donors to invest in Tunisia (President Hollande has reportedly backed a similar initiative for Libya). And the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), which is based in Saudi Arabia, has provided Tunisia with billions of dollars in support. In early May 2014, it was reported that Tunisia is planning to sell more than $100 million of Shariah-compliant bonds (commonly known as “sukuk,” or the Islamic equivalent of bonds) guaranteed by the IDB.
Tunisia also has engaged its African neighbors to identify regional opportunities and partnerships. It recently secured significant financial aid pledges from Algeria, which consists of a $100 million deposit to the Central Bank in Tunis, a loan of $100 million, and a nonrefundable loan worth $50 million. In addition, it has been reported that several Tunisian companies may be taking part in a mission this year to explore investment opportunities in Gabon and Congo, according to Houyem Ghrairi Trimech, the President of the Middle East & Africa Exporters (MAEX) Association.
While post-revolution Tunisia may no doubt continue to confront challenges in the months leading up to and following elections, international and regional support may help foster sustainable growth and ease the country’s economic burdens. This may help the country transition somewhat less turbulently to its first permanent government in over three years.