The countries of the southern Mediterranean, including Tunisia, are facing several economic, social, political and security challenges in 2022. The situation has been complicated by the coronavirus pandemic and its negative impact on development and growth on the global, regional and national levels.
Tunisia is also suffering from the repercussions of years of war and political and security instability in neighboring Libya and other regional countries.
The former ruling class has since 2000 failed in tackling the series of economic, social and political crises. Then came the Tunisian and Arab Spring revolutions in 2011. The new class that came in after the uprisings has also failed in resolving the crises. The result was a series of conflicts and the collapse of the current ruling class in wake of the president taking extraordinary measures on July 25.
Today, the world is witnessing significant geo-strategic, technological, economic, political and security developments that will affect the opportunities of human, economic and political growth in Tunisia and all regional countries.
Amid the new global competition, countries and institutions that best manage the knowledge economy, scientific and technological advances, communication and digital technologies will come out on top. In spite of the negative impact of the pandemic, decision-makers, who will take the best choices in keeping pace with the rapid advances in the internet, fighting bureaucracy and corruption and introducing digitization and modern technology, will ensure the improve the lives of their peoples and countries.
On the other end, the "digital gap" will widen between the countries of the southern and northern Mediterranean if states fail in keeping pace with the developments in the knowledge economy and new digital transformations.
New dangers in Tunisia
Tunisia has succeeded in introducing political and constitutional reforms in the past decade. However, several factors, including missteps by the governments formed after the 2011, 2014 and 2019 elections have led to the emergence of new dangers.
These dangers are threatening the political social contract - the constitution - that was approved in 2014. They are also threatening social and economic balances and national unity.
The new constitution took two years of tireless work to draft. It was then approved and almost complete consensus was reached over its support for freedoms, diversity, democracy and its judicial and regional authorities. However, some articles of the constitution that tackle the nature of the political system, distribution of powers and the jurisdiction of the president, government and legislative authority, need to be revised. There is no denying that the accumulation of economic, social, political and structural crises for decades is on the verge of eroding the sense of national belonging and is stoking factional and regional sentiments.
All around the world, crises fuel extremism, right-wing, populism and discrimination. Arab countries, Tunisia specifically, are not immune to these dangers.
Advanced partnership with Gulf
In this regard, Tunisia and Maghreb counties must positively employ their ties with the advanced countries of the Arab Mashreq, specifically the Gulf that have in recent years achieved major economic advances and cultural openness.
I believe it is necessary and possible, especially with oil-rich Gulf countries that have succeeded in diversifying their economy and local, Arab and international investments that have embarked on the post-oil phase.
It will be good for Tunisia and the Maghreb countries to develop their relations with Arab Gulf nations that have proven their rapid and successful progress in digitalization and governance of modern technologies. They have also turned to human development, human resources and cultural openness.
Tunisia and the southern Mediterranean countries must consolidate their bilateral and regional relations with the Gulf countries that can raise the level of their investments and partnerships for their mutual interests.
Ties with southern Europe
Developing ties with the European Union, specifically southwestern European countries, which are Tunisia and the Maghreb's top economic partners, must also be a priority. Developing ties with Europe is no less important than advancing them with the Arab Gulf.
The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (Euromed) that was set up in 1995 and the first Euro-Mediterranean summit of 2005 aimed to facilitate travel and the movement of capital and goods between the concerned countries. These efforts have made great strides in spite of setbacks. The EU has collectively, and individually by some of its members, helped rehabilitate Tunisia's economy and its main foundation.
Major negative factors, including the pandemic, which has caused economic crises in several European countries, has forced all world countries to turn to addressing their own internal financial, social and health problems at the expense of meeting their pledges to their partners. This also applies to western European countries and their partners in the southern Mediterranean, including Tunisia. The countries have fallen behind in supporting Tunisia's democratic transition, tackling illegal migration and addressing its root causes.
Europe must realize that its future stability, security and demographic and social balance depend on its partnership with the southern Mediterranean countries. They also rely on adopting a comprehensive partnership, management of travel and migration both ways, refraining from foreign meddling and helping reach security and military solutions.
*Elyes Fakhfakh is a former prime minister of Tunisia.