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Tunisia – “Mr. Turkish Pumpkin Seeds” Possibly The Next President,

April 13, 2019

The Tunis Souk

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Ladhari, as well as more generally the Islamists, and their secular Tunisian allies for that matter, have no economic program or vision for their country, except implementing World Bank and IMF diktats, and blindly following the neoliberal agenda, Globalization and the myths of free trade, now discredited everywhere, and even rejected –at least in their current form- by many throughout the world, including by the American people

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(Note: Tunisia…Despite spurious claims of having been “the only successful example of the Arab Spring” Tunisia limps along at the edge of a precipice that could easily lead to an implosion. Bleeding of its youth who flee to Europe, many drowning in the waters of the Mediterranean, others joining this or that militant Muslim fundamentalist group. The social crisis which triggered the 2010-2011 crisis have hardly been addressed, unemployment, especially youth unemployment remains high. The chaos in Libya resonates in the country and a small but persistent al Qaeda-like guerrilla opposition continues in the country’s western mountains near the Algerian border. The country is run politically by a geriatric neo-liberal capitalist and the Tunisian arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Ennahdha Party, both factional in their own ways. One could go on and on. 

The country has announced upcoming elections, legislative polls on October 6 and a presidential vote to follow on November 6. Currently the polls suggest that the Ennahdha Party has the advantage and, if that continues, that it will emerge as the defining political factor. If so, there is a good chance that the present current Minister of Development, Investment and International Cooperation, Zied Ladhari could become the country’s president, capping off a nine-year effort of Ennahdha to dominate the country’s political system. Generally unknown outside of Tunisia and the region, he is well-known in Tunisia. All indications are, that if elected, he will continue the economic policies that have led the country to nowhere.)

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In a commentary on social media, Negib Ayachi, Executive Director of Washington DC – based Maghreb Center weighs in. Not a pretty story: 

[Zied] Ladhari, a member of the Islamist party Ennahda, is currently Minister of Development, Investment and International Cooperation, and former Minister of Commerce, when Tunisia’s massive trade deficit amounted, according to the Tunisian Central Bank, to about one billion Tunisian dinars per month in 2015. (1 US Dollar = 3.0157 Tunisian Dinars as of 4/11/2019. By way of comparison, as of 12/31/2014, 1US Dollar equaled 1.8690 Tunisian Dinars.)

In addition to reasons linked to the crisis in Europe –Tunisia’s main economic partner, terrorism in the aftermath of the so-called Arab Spring revolution, and other factors, this deficit can be attributed for a good part to the adoption by Tunisia of the neoliberal principle of free and unfettered trade, pushed by International financial organizations upon which Tunisia depends heavily for loans to balance its budget, finance its development, and now even to pay its public sector wage bill, as well as by the EU and the US, and willingly adopted by the conservative secular-Islamist coalition in power in Tunisia. The formation of such a governing coalition was favored by the US, and promoted by various Washington-based influential foreign policy circles and think tanks, as integrating the Islamists into the political process in Arab countries was one of the Obama administration foreign policy goals.

Implementing trade-related neoliberal policies in Tunisia, is, in fact, done without much consideration for the specificities of the Tunisian context, carelessly implemented by the so-called Consensus Government, the secular-Islamist coalition; and with devastating consequences on Tunisia’s manufacturing and agricultural sectors, not to mention the tens of thousands of workers who are either losing their jobs, or employed whether full-time, or part-time, but very precariously…

A significant portion of the trade deficit during Ladhari tenure at the Ministry of Commerce, was with Erdogan’s Turkey, a most-favored-nation by Tunisian Islamists (Ladhari is nicknamed ”Mr. Turkish pumpkin seeds” by Tunisians, because he opposed even a reduction in pumpkin seeds imports from Turkey to reduce the deficit with that country). The secular-Islamist coalition, neoliberal and comprador (Reminder: “a comprador is a native of a colonized /dominated country who acts as the agent of the colonizer”) that runs Tunisia practically since the revolution of 2011 has brought the country to its knees.

Ladhari is nicknamed ”Mr. Turkish pumpkin seeds” by Tunisians, because he opposed even a reduction in pumpkin seeds imports from Turkey to reduce the deficit with that country

The current economic situation is characterized by huge, unprecedented trade deficits (See: “Trade deficit rises to $1.33 billion in the first quarter “https://www.reuters.com/…/tunisias-trade-deficit-rises-to-1…), substantial budget deficits, skyrocketing inflation (about 8% in 2018), and unemployment rates (about 15,5% by the end of 2018), a public health system on the verge of collapse, and an educational system in deep crisis, among others.

In spite of this disastrous record, this Islamist-secular neoliberal coalition is supported by European and mostly American influential foreign policy circles and interests. In the US, these are represented among others by neo-liberal interventionists, ‘democratisers’ of the Arab and Muslim world and ‘regime change’ devotees, some of whom came to, and opened office in Tunisia or partnered with local entities, in the wake of the Arab Spring, in the footsteps of the Tunisian-American Islamist lobbyist R. Masmoudi (CSID), who paved the way for them.

Currently, they seem to have engaged in promoting “their people” (candidates) for the decisive upcoming presidential and parliamentarian elections in Tunisia (Oct., and Nov. 2019). Among them is Ladhari who is invited to meet several public and private sectors officials, while in Washington officially to attend the IMF / World Bank Annual Conference. The ultimate objective is, of course, to keep in place the secular-Islamist coalition, neoliberal, and comprador, which runs Tunisia since the revolution of 2011.

Moreover, for its US sponsors, the Neoliberal Islamo-Secular coalition should be rejuvenated. Thus, Youssef Chahed, the current prime minister, a young secular, and ambitious opportunist, and a former employee of the Foreign Agricultural Service at the US embassy in Tunis is expected to be the next president.

Ladhari, also young, and a lawyer, without even much experience as such, and in spite of his terrible record in charge of economic portfolios that he assumed without any training or preparation, is anticipated to be his prime minister. Ladhari seems to be the best bet of Ennahdha, one of the few “professionals” the Islamist party has to offer, simply because very few educated young Tunisians have joined the party.

Ladhari, as well as more generally the Islamists, and their secular Tunisian allies for that matter, have no economic program or vision for their country, except implementing World Bank and IMF diktats, and blindly following the neoliberal agenda, Globalization and the myths of free trade, now discredited everywhere, and even rejected –at least in their current form- by many throughout the world, including by the American people …

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