Will Tunisia’s Economy Survive The Revolution?

The Ben Ali family had its tentacles in every corner of Tunisian business life. A look at the economic fallout from the North African nation's ongoing political and social upheaval

After the downfall of the Ben Ali clan, and the end of its vice-like grip on the Tunisian economy, the country faces a number of challenges such as tackling youth unemployment and how to manage the territory.

Tunisia will have to be rebuilt "literally and figuratively", says U.N. official Karima Bounemra Ben Soltane, referring to the looting in recent days linked to the riots. But Tunisia "will not collapse economically" because the family of deposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has left the country, says Ben Soltane, director of the North Africa office of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

Whole sectors of the economy, from airlines and banks to car dealerships and hotels, were in the hands of the Ben Ali clan, or more precisely, the former President's wife, Leila Trabelsi, says Catherine Graciet, a journalist and author of La régente de Carthage (The Regent of Carthage) (Editions La Découverte). The departure of the Trabelsi family raises "uncertainty over the future of the companies controlled by the clan."

"The oligarchy was involved in everything from small restaurants to major banks' agrees Karim Bitar, a researcher at the Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies (IRIS), a French think tank. "Everything was controlled by a small group which took the gains and failed to redistribute them beyond a few coastal areas."

Béatrice Hibou, a researcher at the Centre for Studies in International Relations (CERI) at Paris' Sciences Po University, puts the corruption into perspective. The clan intervened mainly by "siphoning off revenue or taking commission," she says. "Let's not exaggerate the importance of these networks. Rather than disrupting the economy, the fall of the Trabelsi could on the contrary revitalize business because their corruption will be eliminated," says Hibou. This view is shared by Bounemra Ben Soltane, who also sees the fall as an opportunity for a "breath of fresh air."

The other challenges facing the economy include unemployment. Of the 140,000 people who enter the job market each year, 70,000 are university graduates. The economy creates on average 40,000 to 45,000 jobs annually, mostly in the textile industry and call centers, activities ill-suited to an educated population. The unemployment rate currently stands at 32 percent of the population. More than 70 percent of the unemployed are under the age of 30.

The underside of the "Tunisian economic miracle"

"The hidden side of the Tunisian miracle was ignored," notes Bitar. "Tunisia built its success on economic sectors that did not require skilled labor such as tourism and agriculture." It was difficult, in these conditions, to satisfy young graduates.

With Tunisia's policy of devoting nearly eight percent of GDP to education, Ben Ali's regime dug its own grave, creating thousands of young, unemployed graduates mired in frustration. These graduates rushed into the informal economy to survive, which now represents 38 to 50 percent of GDP in Tunisia.

"The model of the Tunisian miracle worked mostly in the 1980s," says Hibou. "It continued into the 1990s, but without modification. The model of the 1970-80s is still in place, with the textile industry continuing to provide the majority of the jobs."

To appease the population, consumer credit was introduced -- perhaps too much. "There was a lot of abuse in relation to the loans granted," says Bounemra Ben Soltane. The message was: ""consume and shut up! " Graciet calls it: "Impoverishment of the middle class through debt."

Another challenge is facing the reality that the heartland of the country was not living under the same conditions as the middle class in the capital, Tunis. The riots began in the southwestern mining region of Gasfa in 2008 and the provincial city of Sidi Bouzid in 2010. "Tunisia was successful, but the country failed to deal with strong undercurrents," concludes Bitar.

Read the original article in French

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A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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