Tunisia, the home of the birth of the Arab Spring, is currently the only Arab country to successfully transition from a dictatorship into a democracy.
In the three years or so since the Tunisian uprising that sent the dictator Ben Ali fleeing to Saudi Arabia, Tunisia has faced many challenges that they have been able to overcome so far. There has been an up rise in extremism, a new constitution has been written and ratified, and there has been successful elections for both the parliament and president.
The new government has been recently installed and with this comes new challenges.
One of the challenges facing Tunisians is the understanding that their political party does not always win, and when this is the case, they need to accept that their party lost. There have been rumblings in Tunisia that people in the South are not happy with the elections and they want to secede from Tunisia and form their own state.
Another challenge is the challenge of an uptick of Tunisians becoming radicalized and joining groups such as Daa’ish (ISIS) and Ansar al-Shariah. Part of this is due to being under back to back oppressive regimes that prevented the study of Islam and Islamic scholarship creating a lack of knowledge amongst Tunisians.
When Ben Ali was in power, if a Muslim prayed Fajr (morning) prayer inside of a mosque three times in a row, the Guarde Nationale would arrest and torture the devotees, accusing them of terrorism. You can still see the Guarde Nationale sitting in their cars and writing down the names of people going to the mosque, I know because I have experienced this myself.
The third and most pressing challenge facing Tunisia is the need for economic development. Economic development would create jobs, decreasing radicalization and strengthening the economic transition.
This is a necessity in a country that the entire world is looking to for having a successful democratic transition. Tunisia would then become a model Arab nation showing that democracy can exist in the Arab world.
Tunisia has many advantages already. The geographical location of Tunisia is excellent for a successful democracy. Tunisia’s northern coastline runs along the Mediterranean. There is also a major river, Wadi Majardah, which runs through the country.
This allows for the shipping of goods to the Med which can they be shipped from the ports.
Tunisia is also very developed, especially in the North. There is less development in the South where the Sahara Desert is but Tunisia recently passed legislation to use alternative energy sources to aid with the development. Soon there will be an increase of solar panels providing energy to both businesses and the general population in the South.
Higher education is very pronounced in Tunisia. The Tunisian government has made higher education easily accessible to both men and women. As a result many Tunisians are highly educated but are unemployed. Most of the people unemployed specialize in IT and software development.
Tunisia can become the Silicon Valley of the MENA region. Tunisians are very astute at developing software. There should be a push by the government to attract American companies to outsource jobs in Tunisia in order to access the talent pool of unemployed Tunisians.
In order to improve the economy the Tunisian government should diversify their economy from being just a tourist based into other sectors. There needs to be a push for more manufacturing jobs and development jobs.
The government needs to change their practice of making it difficult for Tunisians to register businesses. The private sector can create more jobs, but the people who work for the government make it very difficult to register new companies. I heard many times when I was in Tunisia that if someone goes to register a company, that the government might take over a year to allow for the business to start if they even allow it to start at all.
Part of this has to do with tribal practices and families controlling the businesses, basically being like the mafia in Tunisia. The new Tunisian government needs to allow for an open market and more competition. The government controls all major business in Tunisia. If you want your business paperwork to go through fast you must know Tunisian businessmen already involved and make them a partner in your business.
There needs to be less restrictions on business loans in order to allow for businesses to have access to capital allowing Tunisians to start and grow their own companies. It is very difficult to secure business loans in Tunisia. Access to capital is very important for any economy to make the successful leap from an emerging economy into a first world economy.
Another way in which Tunisian businesses can have access to capital would be to create a system to allow for Tunisian businesses to have IPOs which they can sale in both Tunisia and the world market. This would bring in billions of dollars into the Tunisian economy in just a matter of days.
The taxing of businesses in Tunisia is very archaic. As soon as a company registers in Tunisia they must pay high taxes whether the company is profitable or not. The Tunisian government needs to learn the difference between tax rates and tax revenues. By charging a lower percentage of taxes, companies will have more liquid capital to expand and higher more employees, which will in turn create more jobs.
There also needs to be tax incentives for businesses allowing for tax write-offs.
Tunisia has the ability to become a flagship nation for the rest of the Arab world. By following this advice, I believe it would be a start in the right direction.