The Drought After the Arab Spring

IMG_3667An economic ‘dry summer’ followed the Arab Spring in post-revolution Tunisia.

by Clare Cushing

The Arab Spring began two and a half years ago in a small, dusty town in the middle of Tunisia, just north of its barren deserts. If you were to drive through Sidi Bouzid now, you would see sheep being hung to bleed into the orange sand and smell mouth-wateringly fresh barbecue kebabs being cooked on the side of the road. But above all else you would be struck by the abject poverty that is found here. A few mud-shack shops line the side of the road. Men sit in the cafes, on the pavement, on the road, and on the grass with bored, loafing expressions, cups of strong green tea with almonds, and perhaps the protection of a piece of shade. Some cover their eyes with their scarves and sleep. If there is anything here, there is time. As in most of Tunisia, there is not much to do. Jobs are scarce. In Sidi Bouzid it is easy to imagine the economic despair Mohamed Bouazizi must have felt when he deliberately set fire to himself in 2010, unwittingly also sparking the flame that would start the Arab Spring.

Unfortunately, almost three years after the revolution, things have only gotten worse. The nation is facing a severe economic crisis. Tunisia’s unemployment rate for 2012 was at 18.8 percent with over 33 percent among its youth, putting Tunisia’s unemployment rate among the highest 25 percent in the world; in 2010, the high unemployment rate, which in part initiated the revolution, was a full 4.8 percent lower. Likewise, while GDP growth was at a steady 3.1 percent in 2010, it dropped to 1.9 percent in 2011. Although GDP is now gaining some ground and is back up to about 3.6 percent, this rate is much lower than the original 2010 predictions for the 2013 GDP, which estimated it to be around 6 percent growth.

Over the last decade, Tunisia’s main industries have been petroleum, mining, tourism, and textiles. In 2007, before the global economic crisis, Tunisia’s industrial production growth rate was as high as 7.2 percent. In 2010, before the revolution, Tunisia was still maintaining a slow but constant industrial production growth rate of 1.6 percent. In post-revolution 2011, however, this dropped dramatically to a 6.4 percent yearly decline. Although some recovery has been made since then, Tunisia’s industries are still in a state of utter despair.

Without political stability, it seems unlikely that …

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