Tunis, Asharq Al-Awsat—Interim Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa highlighted the political and economic achievements secured by his caretaker cabinet ahead of an important “Invest in Tunisia” conference set to be held on Monday.
Jomaa, who is heading an interim government until elections in October, said that Tunisia has turned a corner in terms of the political and economic challenges facing the country, but acknowledged that there is still a lot of work to be done, particularly to confront the creeping threat of terrorism.
Jomaa had earlier ruled out a presidential run. He is an independent politician who previously served as Minister of Industry in the Ali Laarayedh government.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Now that you have been interim Prime Minister of Tunisia for more than seven months, what is your assessment of the political, social and economic situation in the country?
Mehdi Jomaa: A significant change has taken place on the level of the structure of the state after a period of major political tribulation, ongoing political polarization and different security and political pressures. But Tunisia has managed to extricate itself from this difficult situation, with our political and economic vision gradually becoming clearer. Ultimately, this has slowly restored trust in the institutes of the state. At the end of the day, we should admit that several [state] institutes were disrupted after 2011; investment and production slowed down but they did not completely collapse.
Q: You speak confidently about the political and economic situation in Tunisia today, but aren’t you concerned that Tunis is still facing a number of major challenges, not least the threat of terrorism?
This does not intimidate us; our mission is to serve Tunisia and defend its gains. Ever since I assumed the post of Prime Minister, we have worked to rebuild state institutes and restore trust in the Tunisian economy. We still have an abiding faith that Tunisia possesses the necessary features and characteristics—whether in terms of its geographical location, human resources, or production—to occupy a prominent position in Africa, particularly in terms of its dealings with several key partners.
Q: Speaking of economic partners, Tunisia is preparing to host an economic conference on Monday which aims to bring greater investment into the country. What is your view of the “Invest in Tunisia: Start-up democracy” conference? What do you expect it to achieve for the country?
We would particularly like to tell our economic partners—in the Arab world, Arab Gulf and the West—that Tunisia has turned over a new page as far as uncertainty is concerned, and is today experiencing a period characterized by clear political, economic and social vision. It is no secret to anyone that Tunisia was banking on the massive capabilities of its neighbor, Libya, in terms of attracting workforce and flow of capital in both directions in order to reinvigorate the Tunisian economy. But unfortunately this has not materialized. Therefore, we would like today to tell our economic partners today that we are ready to start over by confirming a true partnership based on common interests.
Q: But the Tunisian economy, according to the most recent indications, is still suffering from a number of difficulties, particularly on the level of restoring investors’ trust and convincing new investors to come to Tunisia. Would you agree with this assessment?
This is true to a large extent. But what we have achieved is significant compared to the magnitude of the challenges that faced the country over the past few years. True, growth has failed to meet our expectations, but we must also consider the scale of the problems that were facing the country. Therefore, what we have achieved confirms the firmness of the Tunisian economy and the confidence of in our investment climate.
Q: Do you think that the government has prioritized the economy over the political situation in the country?
I believe that there cannot be talk about political success without paying serious and effective attention to economic files. I believe that the Tunisian revolution erupted primarily for social reasons. It would also be a mistake to neglect the strategic aspect of the relationship between state institutes and the Tunisian people.
Q: Some politicians and unionist figures have said that they would support you remaining in office after the forthcoming presidential and legislative elections. Would you be willing to remain as Tunisia’s prime minister beyond the end of your current tenure as caretaker?
I have proved to everybody that I am not interested in [seeking] a political future. I entered the government on the basis of a contract between all parties with the aim of delivering the country to the elections in accordance with the roadmap. Among the positive points which I believe my cabinet has achieved is the “State” and “Lifestyle” project, which has been warmly received by all sides.
Q: In your view, has Arab Gulf investors trust in Tunisia been restored? How have Arab Gulf investors responded to the forthcoming “Invest in Tunisia: Start-up democracy” project?
We have confirmed to all economic actors that has shown interest in the conference that we are not seeking financial gifts or aid as much as we want to achieve commonality [of interests] between Tunisia and the rest of the world. We expect a large Gulf turnout at the forthcoming economic conference.
Q: Do you think the main reason behind investors’ fears regarding the investment climate in Tunisia is due to security concerns?
During my Gulf tour I discussed the issue with our brothers . . .and told them that we do not wish to export revolution nor interfere with the political affairs and choices of any country.
Q: Are you satisfied with the performance of your cabinet? What are the most significant achievements you have made?
Perhaps, ensuring political and social stability has been among the main positive points achieved during my tenure. We have managed, with the [help of] military forces and security apparatus to eliminate many of the manifestations of violence and lawlessness and encircled the strongholds of armed terror groups.
This is an abridged version of an interview originally conducted in Arabic.