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Economic Impact of the Arab Spring in Tunisia

Tunisia was the first country where the Arab Spring “fire” started. The country was facing times of political and economic instability dealing with high level of corruption, high prices, unemployment, political oppression and poverty. The government censored access to information by placing restrictions on the Internet and on the Media. Tunisia found itself in a period of great oppression under the presidency of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, who, after manipulating the country for twenty-four years, ultimately got overthrown as a result of massive protests that started in December 2010, later on turning into massive, violent riots which resulted in socio-economic chaos, death and instability. In October 2011, The National Constituent Assembly was formed. Its primary task is to regulate the political system and to resuscitate the economy.

The Arab Spring left Tunisia in a deplorable economic situation. According to the report “Re-thinking the Arab Spring”, published by Geopolicity in October 2011, the cost of the uprisings in Tunisia are estimated at $2.03 billion, which counts for 5.22% of the GDP. (http://www.geopolicity.com/upload/content/pub_1318911442_regular.pdf)

The experts who put together the report classified the countries affected by the “Arab Spring” as economies projected to be either net economic losers or net economic winners. Expanding on this theory, Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, Libya and Syria are in the category of countries losing most with few winners.

In the following paragraphs, we will examine the impact of the riots on several economic indicators such as unemployment, inflation rate, government spending, general debt and investment. In addition, a team of experts of the International Monetary Fund posted estimates of a set of economic indicators for 2011-2016.  This information will give us a rough estimate of the future picture of Tunisia’s economy.  We will begin our analysis by examining the impact of the “Arab Spring” on the economic indicators mentioned above.

1. Impact on unemployment and on inflation rate. In Tunisia, 13% of people who are in the labor force are currently unemployed, youth unemployment exceeds 26% and the unemployment among recent graduates keeps growing day by day. The Economist posted an article which states that people are also frustrated because the distribution of wealth is uneven between the rich cities and the poor rural areas, also making the distribution of job opportunities unbalanced(http://www.economist.com/node/17862305). Inflation rate in 2009 was 3.7%, reaching 5% in 2011. The increases in unemployment and inflation rate are factors that aggravate the economic situation.

2. Government spending and general debt.  As a consequence of the protests, the government expenditures increased (US$746 million), altering the fiscal balance by US$489 million. Other indicators such as the gross national savings decreased by 2 % in just one year; external debt also grew by $4 billion, the budget deficit reached 8.5% of the GDP, and industrial production for 2011 registered a 0% growth. (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ts.html)

3. Investment.  The newly elected National Constituent Assembly has a set of challenging tasks to accomplish: apart from lowering the unemployment rate, reducing the budget deficit and regulate the fiscal system, the Assembly must increase investment and business development. International Monetary Fund (IMF) data presents that investment percentage share to GDP decreased from 26.4 to 25.3. Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the IMF expresses her opinion on this matter: “Fiscal deficits have widened, which raises concerns about sustainability. It pushes up interest rates, which makes it harder for the private sector to get credit to set up or expand businesses and start hiring people”(Lagarde, http://www.imf.org/external/np/speeches/2011/120611.htm).

According to Lagarde, the government should change its fiscal policies so it would generate funds for business development, infrastructure, education and health. It is of primary importance for the private sector to collaborate with the government to promote investment and competitiveness and to reduce the level of corruption that grew from 4.3 in 2012 to 3.8 in 2011(the ten scale indicates the following: 10-very clean, 0-highly corrupt, http://cpi.transparency.org/cpi2011/results/#CountryResults). According to Lagarde, the IMF is currently helping Tunisia to strengthen the financial sector, one of Tunisia’s economic strategic initiatives.

Data shows that other factors such as GDP and GDP per capita seem not to be affected by the riots. GDP rose from 2010 by approximately $2.3 billion. GDP per capita shows a slight increase as well. (http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD)

Lastly, we will discuss the future economic situation in Tunisia by analyzing the estimated indicators provided by the IMF. The situation looks promising if we look at the data: GDP per capita will double by 2016; the share of total investment to GDP is expected to increase by 3%. Government expenditure is expected to fall by 2016, while government revenues will not present major fluctuations. Unemployment rate is expected to drop by at least 1% and gross national savings are expected to grow by 5%. It is important to note that these economic milestones can be reached only through democratization and economic liberalization.