TUNIS (Reuters) - A short while ago, Adel Klaifa was used to members of the Tunisian president’s family coming to the beach and riding on his camels.
The only problem was that they refused to pay like regular tourists.
Now six months after the overthrow of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, the first victim of the Arab Spring revolutions, Klaifa has another problem -- not enough customers of any kind. Along with many of his fellow Tunisians, economic prosperity remains elusive.
“We are more free than before,” he told Reuters as his three camels -- Shakira, Aziza and Madonna -- sat waiting for would-be riders on the burning sand of one of Tunis’s most fashionable beaches.
”Before, the family of the president came to the hotel and asked me for free camel rides, or else they would call the police.
“Now, there are not so many tourists,” the 39-year-old father of two said as brightly colored flags snapped in the breeze behind rows of empty sunbeds. “We do expect them to come back...”
“For our children, we hope their lives will be better, with more democracy and more freedom. But the politicians say a lot while they don’t do much.”
Under Ben Ali, Tunisia was a police state and his fall released a tide of enthusiasm for freedom and democracy, but as Klaifa acknowledged, there has been a financial price to pay.
Official figures show revenues from tourism, which accounts for 6.5 percent of the North African country’s economy and employs one person in five, have plunged by 50 percent in the first six months of the year.
Tunisian officials expect the economy to grow by just 1 percent this year, down from about 3.7 percent in 2010.
Finance Minister Jalloul Ayed told Reuters this month he expected growth to rebound next year to over 5 percent.
The Tunisian economy is also expected to benefit from a series of multi-billion dollar aid packages from the G8 and other international bodies, but difficulties remain.
“This situation is the most difficult period in the history of Tunisia since its independence and the government has no magic wand to fix all the things in a short time,” Prime Minister Beji Caid Sebsi said in speech Wednesday.
Many young Tunisians would agree. They still see no sign the euphoria surrounding the revolution is going to improve their job prospects.
There are about 700,000 people unemployed in Tunisia, or about 16 percent of the workforce.
But it is among college graduates, the class most associated with the unrest that brought down the ancient regime, that joblessness has hit hardest, leaving the expectations raised by the revolution often cruelly unrealized.
It was an act of self-immolation by Mohamed Bouazizi, an unemployed graduate reduced to selling fruit and vegetables from a barrow in the town of Sidi Bouzid, that sparked the unrest that set the Arab world alight.
His fellow graduates could now be forgiven for wondering exactly what it was he died for.
Unemployment among graduates is now 30 percent, according to the prime minister and this is not a problem he expects to be able to solve any time soon.
In some areas, graduate joblessness is much higher, leading to regular street protests. In Sidi Bouzid, for example, it is 48 percent, a figure that leads some to predict more trouble to come.
“There is frustration among the young people in the region,” Mehdi Horchani, a teacher in Sidi Bouzid, told Reuters. “There are many promises but they have not achieved anything yet.”
“The situation is very bad and may explode again at any moment because in the former era there was frustration but there was also fear, but now there is frustration and there is no fear,” he said.
There is also disappointment, as Faten Ayadi, who graduated in communications and journalism in 2007, told Reuters:
“After the revolution, I was optimistic that things would be better and the new government would provide more job opportunities. Our hopes were high but we have not seen anything positive.”
She had repeatedly applied for jobs but was told the priority was to give posts to people from more deserving social backgrounds.
“The revolution has not given me anything,” she said.
Elsewhere, frustration is turning to desperation.
“I‘m still waiting for a chance to work,” said Ramzi Layouni from the western Tunisian town of Kasserine, who graduated in 2004. “I see a future that is still dark.”
He realized that the new interim government had no “magic wand” to find jobs for graduates.
“I will be forced to migrate to Europe illegally by sea, or maybe burn myself like Bouazizi. I am tired of this situation.”
He added: “I do not blame the government. I blame the international community that only praised Tunisia’s revolution without providing assistance to young men who faced bullets for freedom and dignity.”
Editing by Matthew Jones