Tunisia celebrates Independence Day amid hopes and fears
OPTIMISM National unity government has been formed
Tunisians celebrated their 56th independence day on Tuesday as they were swaying between hopes for an economic recovery and fears of high unemployment and political division.
This Independence Day, the second since last year's upheaval that toppled former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, came shortly after the North African nation held the elections for the 217-member Constituent Assembly, which has endorsed a national unity government tasked with drafting a new constitution and preparing for new legislative and presidential elections within a year. However, Tunisians' ebullient hopes brought by the change were quickly dampened by the economic crisis due to various strikes and sit-ins that have scared away investors and tourists and generated, for the first time, a negative growth rate of -1.8 percent and a budget deficit of 6.5 percent. In spite of some hopeful signs for economic recovery in 2012, including a possible 3.5-percent economic growth rate, a 12.8- percent increase in foreign investments, a 5.8-percent growth of exports and a 3.5-percent increase of tourists, the new government 's failure in bringing down the high unemployment, estimated at 18. 3 percent, a
nd the hike in food prices have done little to allay the fears of many Tunisians about the country's future. "To tackle the current economic and social challenges, the country needs the spirit of abnegation which enabled Tunisians to achieve independence from France in 1956, as well as the dignity and freedom revolution," Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said in a statement aired on TV Monday night.
Tunisia is also faced with public concerns about the current rise of Islamic fundamentalists in the political arena. Islamist parties such as Ennahdha, which won the recent elections and is now leading the new government, did not conceal in recent media debates their intentions to set up a Caliphate and dismantle the current multiparty system.