TUNIS: At the Sidi Bahri market in Tunis, shoppers were pleased with the president’s attacks on corruption and high prices since he seized control of the government last month.
President Kais Saied has criticized Tunisia’s economic policy, urged traders to charge less for food and medicine and accused unnamed businessmen of stealing billions of dollars while police are investigating corruption in state industry.
“The citizen feels reassured and prices have gone down in everything,” said Azza Belwaer, a 36-year-old medical equipment vendor buying groceries in Sidi Bahri.
However, three weeks after Saied sacked the prime minister and froze parliament, he has yet to appoint a new government, articulate any broad economic policy or say how he intends to finance the public deficit and debt repayments.
Anger at economic stagnation, aggravated by the pandemic, helped drive apparently widespread popular support for Saied’s sudden intervention on July 25.
As president, Saied has been formally responsible only for foreign affairs and defense. Before his election he gave few clues as to his economic views though some of his main supporters came from the political left.
One option may be help from Gulf states. Saied has boasted of contacts with “friendly countries” for help and has received envoys from two countries. Gulf aid could give Saied fiscal wiggle room, “letting political reforms start immediately, followed by economic reform by a stable government after elections,” said economist Ezzidine Saidane.
Saied has an opportunity to take advantage of ‘broad popular support’ to propose urgent change.
Mohamed Ali Boughdiri
Mohamed Ali Boughdiri, deputy head of the Tunisian General Labour Union, said Saied had an opportunity to take advantage of “broad popular support” to propose urgent change.
It sees efforts to combat corruption, tax evasion and the informal economy as priorities, he said. Though the IMF has also urged efforts to reduce those, it sees tackling the public wages and subsidies as more pressing.
Saied is now responsible for resolving Tunisia’s chronic economic troubles — potentially undermining the political transformation in which he appears most interested.
“In the big picture, these events have unleashed enormous expectations. It’s going to be very difficult for him to meet those. He’ll need the help of Tunisia’s friends and an inclusive approach,” said the diplomat.