International markets offer ray of hope to beleaguered Tunisia artisans

Middle East EFaisel Ben Ghorbel in his workshop in Tunis' old cityye – Tunis, Tunisia: Fakher Baklouti’s father taught him to work with olive wood as he was growing up outside of Sfax, an industrial city about halfway down Tunisia’s Mediterranean coast. The texture and patterns in the wood appealed to him, and he found it easy to turn into beautiful, artistic products. Now, Baklouti is proud to be a third generation olive wood artisan carrying on a traditional Tunisian craft. “It’s important for me that it’s purely Tunisian,” he said.

Since the country’s 2011 revolution, Tunisia has experienced a prolonged period of economic malaise that has made life more difficult for Baklouti and other artisans. Tourism has declined, shrinking an important client base, inflation has increased the cost of raw materials and cheap, and smuggled goods from Libya and Algeria have flooded the market.

Searching for opportunity and new markets in a Tunisian economy characterised by over regulation, rampant cronyism and widespread corruption, according to a recent World Bank report, is exceedingly difficult. As a result, Baklouti and other artisans have found it hard to make ends meet.

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Fear and nostalgia as Tunisia transitions to democracy

TN_VotersMiddle East Eye – Tunis, Tunisia: Several days before the Tunisian presidential elections, 26-year-old Ameni Hammami was sitting with a group of friends at a café in one of Tunis’ upscale neighbourhoods discussing candidates. Reflecting on what has changed since Tunisia’s revolution, Hammami noted that four years ago, they would not be having this conversation. “We would switch off our mobiles,” she said with a laugh, out of fear that the government would listen in on what they were saying through their phones.

On Sunday, 23 November, Tunisians participated in the first free presidential elections in the country’s history. According to official results released on Wednesday, Beji Caid Essebsi received 39.5 percent of the vote with interim president, Moncef Marzouki coming in second place with 33.4 percent. The two frontrunners, out of a field of 27 candidates, will now face each other in a run-off election to be held next month.

Coming a month after successful parliamentary elections, the international community is celebrating the vote as the final step in Tunisia’s transition to democracy. But, as the past weighed heavily on the first round of presidential voting, many Tunisians are less convinced that their country has crossed the threshold and see much more work that needs to be done to secure the new system…

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Tunisian youth skip presidential vote

TUNIS, Tunisia — Late IMG_0291Sunday afternoon, Nov. 23, Serine Limam, 21, purposefully strolled into a polling station in La Goulette, a suburb of Tunisia’s capital. She was resolute in her reasons for voting in Tunisia’s first free presidential elections. “It’s important for youth to vote because it is our future,” she told Al-Monitor.

Many of her friends did not feel the same way. “They think that, no matter what, Tunisia is not going to move forward and that their vote won’t change anything,” Limam said.

In Sunday’s election, Limam was the exception rather than the rule.

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