One year after the massacre at the Bardo Museum, Tunisia is fighting to assure the Country’s social cohesion. On meeting political players and leaders, we can perceive their strength and obstinacy. But what emerges is mainly their pride, the pride of people who have freed themselves from a dictatorship and unhesitatingly indicate the two fronts that are still open in order to support the democratic transition: domestic security and economic recovery. These emergencies intertwine, often engendering unmotivated uncertainties and fears among foreign observers. Because the spread of fear is precisely the primary goal of jihadists, of the terrorists who attacked the Bardo Museum and the beaches in the Sousse Governorate to scare off Europeans from these emblematic landmarks and isolate Tunisia. These attacks struck at the heart of the tourism-based economy, which plummeted (with 2 million less foreign visitors in 2015) and stunted GDP growth, driving unemployment up to 15%, with peaks of 50% among the youth of southern regions. The drop is risky because it can strain the social fragilities and financial difficulties that are being tackled by the national government and by foreign donors in order to avoid the worst. It is no coincidence that the general public still keeps vividly in mind the memory of the violent demonstrations that broke out in Kasserine, the sign of a dangerous social malaise coming from the country’s poorest hinterland. And, even if last October the whole world celebrated the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the Quartet for having “established an alternative, peaceful political process at a time when the country was on the brink of civil war”, now the dream of breaking free from the spectres of the past, brought to life by a Constitution-manifesto for the whole Arab world, continues to be targeted by fundamentalist insurgents. This has caused an increase in the appeals launched by President Essebsi and Prime Minister Essid asking Tunisians to make donations in order to contribute to financing the fight against terrorism. Mr Essebsi himself contributed a one-month salary to the cause. It is a call to national unity launched only a few days after the bloody clashes with terrorists at Ben Guerdane, a border area with Libya over which Tunisian authorities are regaining control. “We are patrolling 500 km along the border, doing a dual job because we’re also standing in for Libyan forces,” Tunisian Interior Minister, Hédi Majdoub, told me while explaining the positive results obtained in the fight on terrorism across the Tunisia-Libya border during the last year. Tunisia has always been a priority country for Italian Cooperation efforts. The Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2015 opted for a shift in focus with interventions aimed to support good governance and democratisation while confirming aid for increasing employment and socio-economic development. Italy, whose donorship interventions include tied aid and debt conversion measures, also contributes with 300 million euros and a bilateral forum to be held in May with the Italian Ministry for Economic Development (MISE) which will enable companies to take stock of the situation on the basis of a trade volume of almost 5 billion euros and roughly 800 Italian companies operating in Tunisia. “There are great projects in progress across the two shores of the Mediterranean, the most ambitious of which is the Tunisia-Italy ELMED electric interconnection project, which means interconnecting Europe and Africa” Tunisian Development Minister Yassine Brahim told me. It is a wide-reaching initiative supported by Mr Renzi’s Government at the unanimous request of all the parliamentary forces. A determination that was loudly voiced in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. And this is why we regret the recent controversies on the measure approved by the European Parliament – which is limited in scope and only short-term – to increase the quota of Tunisian olive oil imports. We regret the controversies and the concerted opposition, not only because of their effective consequences on our markets but also because of the discord among the opponents of the young democracy in Tunis and in relation to the effective aid to the Country’s hinterland areas, as Agriculture Minister Seddik reminded me: “16% of active labour forces work in agriculture, which is worth 11% of the GDP.” Europe’s decision was an emergency measure which was to be followed up with more ambitious instruments, implementing the often uncoordinated projects of the international community and financial institutions. A possible way of supporting investments could be to set up a Trust Fund for Tunisia’s development, in which to funnel the contributions of all the Countries interested, of the European Commission and of International Institutions. It is time to act and silence Italian demagogues, who are always ready to point their finger on the issue of terrorism or migration but then look the other way when discussing how to help new democracies “on site”. Tunisia cannot be the borderline between the vulnerabilities of Europe but must rather be an economic cooperation model in the pacification of the Mediterranean; a strategic more than moral imperative, and not only for Italy.
Amendola: «Let us support Tunisia» (l’Unità)