DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - Tunisia’s new government sent a high-level delegation to Davos Saturday with a message to the world’s business and power elite: please stay in our economy and keep out of our politics.
Two weeks after a popular uprising dubbed the “Jasmine Revolution” drove authoritarian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali from power, ministers from the second interim government travelled to the Swiss ski resort to reassure investors at the World Economic Forum that the new Tunisia is open for business.
“The international community can contribute in two ways: firstly try not to do any harm to us,” said Mustapha Kamel Nabli, who became central bank governor 10 days ago.
“Tunisia is back in business. You will be doing business in a more transparent environment ... because democracy is getting rid of the favoritism and cronyism of the past,” he told a news conference.
Tunisian economist Moncef Cheikhrouhou said young people had written graffiti on the walls of Tunis proclaiming: “Democracy is a good investment.”
Nabli voiced anger at credit ratings agencies which have downgraded Tunisia’s debt and put it on negative watch since the revolution, citing political instability and its potential impact on economic growth.
“This is not acceptable. Where were they -- sleeping? -- when corruption was endemic?” he asked.
Earlier, Nabli told a Davos audience that included French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde: “On the political track, we hope to see a lack of interference... There is a temptation that external parties will start to interfere. Let the Tunisian people work things out for themselves.”
France, the former colonial power in Tunisia, supported Ben Ali until the end and admitted last week it had underestimated public anger at his iron rule and corruption.
Yassine Brahim, who became transport and infrastructure minister two days ago, said the new authorities had set about cleaning up a system that had been dominated by Ben Ali and his tentacular family, and wanted to make the best use of Tunisia’s young, educated workforce.
Sami Zaoui, minister of communications, said his first move on appointment 10 days ago had been to free up completely the Internet, which young activists had used to organize protests against Ben Ali. The previous government shut down Twitter and social networking sites in a vain effort to choke off revolt.
The Tunisian delegation diplomatically declined to comment on events in Egypt, where copy-cat popular protests have swept the country this week demanding an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
But Saudi journalist and commentator Jamal Khashoggi, head of the Alwaleed 24 television channel, said both the Egyptian protesters and Mubarak were following the Tunisian script.
“Egypt is an example of what could happen next throughout the Arab world,” he said.
Ironically, the absolute monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states were better placed to survive because they had not given their populations the illusion that future elections would be free and fair, Khashoggi said.
Nabli laid to rest one news story which made headlines around the world in the days after Ben Ali and his wife fled to Saudi Arabia. Several media reported that they had made off with 1.6 tonnes of gold from the central bank.
The new governor said he had had the gold stocks audited and there were 5.3 tonnes in the bank’s vaults. In addition, the Bank of England was holding some 1.5 tonnes for Tunisia in London.
Added together, that exactly matched the 6.8 tonnes which Tunisia had reported to the International Monetary Fund and the World Gold Council in mid-2010.
editing by Mike Peacock