Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Ten years ago, Tunisia led the Arab Spring, sparking mass protests for democratic reform throughout the Arab world. Tunisians have kept the democratic spark alive, while political freedom movements have been repressed and otherwise frustrated elsewhere throughout North Africa and the Middle East.
Commonly overlooked, however, has been the cause of economic freedom. In self-immolating himself and setting off the Arab Spring, Mohamed Bouaziz was protesting the daily harassment by Tunisian officials who kept him from selling fruit and making a living, restricting his economic freedom. While most observers believe that Tunisia has made democratic progress over the last ten years, economic reform has lagged.
Anthony Kim, Research Manager at the Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation, has visited Tunisia several times in the last decade and recently wrote an article “On the 10th anniversary of the Arab Spring, Tunisia is Leading the Way on Democracy.” He also serves as the editor of the Index of Economic Freedom, one of the Heritage Foundation’s flagship publications.
The Index, a world-renowned, annual ranking of economic freedom across the globe is now in its 27th edition. Among its many policy impacts, the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporations uses its findings in determining country eligibility for “compact” funding. Policymakers and investors worldwide rely on the Index for economic analysis. The Index of Economic Freedom ranks Tunisia 119th of the 169 countries it analyzes. The Tunisian economy is considered “Mostly Unfree.” The highest-ranking countries in North Africa and the Middle East in the 2021 Index are the United Arab Emirates (14), Israel (26), and Bahrain (40).
Below is a recent conversation between Kim and Olfa Hamdi, President & Founder of CSST, on economic freedom and the Tunisian economy. Olfa brings a unique and very hands-on perspective, having recently acted as the chief executive officer of Tunisair, one of the country’s largest firms. The two shed light on why the Tunisian government badly needs to increase economic freedom if it’s to meet the aspirations of the Tunisian people.