COVID-19 negatively impacted the tourism sector leading to an economic recession.
Amid political standoff and economic problems, Tunisia is striving to overcome the socio-economic difficulties.
On February 21, Tunisia’s largest political party, Ennahda, called for a demonstration, against President Kais Saeid amid a political standoff.
The protests came after President Saeid criticized a government reshuffle to introduce 11 ministers.
Ennahda, supported by Qalb Tounes Party, pushed for the reshuffling.
Saeid claimed that the reshuffle was unconstitutional. “I swore before God by putting my hand on the Quran to respect the constitution,” he stressed on February 15.
Due to the absence of a constitutional court in Tunisia, the political standoff has lasted for more than two months and is still dragging on.
The gridlock began amid a series of protests against social inequality and police brutality. The police arrested more than 1,600 people during the demonstrations, according to the Tunisian Human Rights League’s (LTDH) record released on February 4.
Meanwhile, A Tunisian court of appeal released prominent women’s activist Rania Amdouni.
Amdouni is a women’s human rights defender and a member of the Tunisian Association for Justice and Equality (DAMJ).
The police arrested her when she went to a police station to complain about alleged harassment by plainclothes officers.
The political standoff appears to be making Tunisia’s situation worse, bearing in mind the complicated economic situation the nation faces.
Impact of COVID-19 on Tunisia’s tourism
“Covid-19 crisis is exacerbating Tunisia’s socio-economic fragilities,” according to a report the International Monetary Fund (IMF) published on February 26.
Travel restrictions and the pandemic have hit Tunisia’s tourism sector hard. Most of the country’s hotels closed their doors and many tourism employees lost their jobs.
The tourism sector is a crucial source of income for Tunisia as it usually accounts for approximately 8% of economic output. According to central bank data figures, tourism revenues plunged by 65% in 2020 compared to 2019.
Despite the political standoff and as a response to the economic downturn, Tunisia decided to ease COVID-19 restrictions starting from March 8 in hopes of saving the tourism season.
Tunisia’s Minister of Tourism, Mohamed Ammar, said on March 5, “With these new measures, the vision has become more clear to travel tour operators… I think that the season can start in May and June because reservations will start from now.”
The minister showed his optimism that the country would be able to save the tourism season as the country begins a major vaccination campaign.
After launching its campaign on March 13, Tunisia received on March 17 its first batch of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses through the COVAX mechanism.
COVAX is an initiative that aims at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
As of March 17, Tunisia has administered only 2,550 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, While Morocco comes on first place with a total of 6.36 million and a total of 7.57 million in all Africa
Resuming talks with Libya
In the midst of Tunisia’s political standoff, President Saeid landed in Libya on Wednesday for talks with the newly-appointed Libyan government.
As prominent economic allies, trade exchanges between the two countries reached $373 million in 2018.
Mohammad Younes Menfi, head of Libya’s Presidential Council, received the Tunisian president in Tripoli’s Mitiga International Airport.
Through the visit, Tunisia’s president aims to show support for the democratic process in Libya and to strengthen the bilateral cooperation between the two countries.
Tunisia’s president also met Libya’s new Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah.
In a statement the Tunisian presidency released after the meeting, it said discussions between the two parties focused on “boosting trade and facilitating the movement of people and merchandise across borders.”
Saeid has also expressed his hopes to revive the Arab Maghreb Union.
The founding treaty of the Union was inked in 1989. It aimed at freeing the circulation of goods and services between member states.
As Tunisia grapples with government tensions and its economic downturn, Saeid pays visit to neighbouring Libya in hopes of reviving the bilateral cooperation between the two nations.