Posted by: THE NEW YORK TIMES
TUNIS — The emir of Qatar came in person with a pledge of $1.25 billion. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, France and other European partners promised substantial amounts, too.
The show of support, as the Tunisian government threw open its doors this week at a two-day investment conference, was a measure of the stake the entire region feels in keeping Tunisia’s democratic transition on track.
It was also an acknowledgment that the greatest threat to that transition may be Tunisia’s weak economy, which is sowing discontent, especially among young people in rural areas.
After a year of political drift and growing social tensions, the conference was a prominent attempt by the government to secure support. It was opened in Tunis on Tuesday by President Béji Caïd Essebsi, who told international partners that Tunisia faced an exceptional situation, a sentiment that other officials expressed.
“We want to show what we have done in the last five years in changing society, in changing mentalities, going through democracy, which is a huge, enormous change,” Tunisia’s prime minister, Youssef Chahed, said in an interview before the conference. “It is a call to the world to come and be part of the story.”
The country has been buffeted by civil unrest, terrorism and full-fledged war with its neighbor Libya, once a major trading partner and source of employment, in the five years since the popular uprising that overthrew President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and set off the Arab Spring.
The Tunisian economy has been in decline since 2011, and the government is struggling with a growing budget deficit. Investors fled the post-revolution disarray and have been further scared off by terrorism since 2013.
Four large-scale terrorist attacks over the last 18 months left more than 70 people dead, many of them foreign tourists. The tourism industry, which contributed 7 percent of gross domestic product, and more indirectly, collapsed to half its former level.
Successive governments have been absorbed with the democratic transition — and their own political divisions — and economic reforms have largely been delayed or neglected. Annual economic growth has averaged only 1.5 percent since the revolution.