Sitting in cafes all over Tunisia are unemployed youth with college degrees and nothing better to do.
Tunisia's recent revolution left it with skyrocketing unemployment and an economic collapse. Libya, Tunisia’s neighbor, finds itself in a similarly precarious situation. Their crucial difference is that while Tunisia is relatively developed, Libya has no working infrastructure. And ironically, it is this lack of infrastructure that provides the solution to both countries' problems.
Following the wake of Tunisia’s President Ben Ali stepping down and the death of Libya’s Qaddafi, the nations’ new governments are hoping to set up more open ways of conducting business. Previously full of government corruption and theft, transparent business practices will allow both countries to allow the creation of companies that address the people’s interests rather than the government’s. Tunisia and Libya’s citizens are taking advantage of this change, and are already creating businesses aimed at building the desperately needed infrastructure in Libya that Qaddafi never developed. This will, in turn, relieve the strain on Tunisia’s hospitals and other infrastructure, which are currently working at double capacity. According to Tunisian economist Moncef Cheikhrouhou, the rebuilding of Libya could provide jobs for 250,000 Tunisians, all while developing lasting economic ties between the nations and creating the building blocks for Libya’s economy to sustain itself.
The new opportunities for growth and economic connection also have a broader appeal. In the post-Arab Spring Middle East, the example these two struggling countries provide sets the pace for a region full of economic growth potential.
Prior to the Arab Spring, the Middle East economy neglected to build privatized business connections within the region. Ben Ali aligned Tunisia with Europe and Qaddafi kept Libya isolated. When regional investment did occur, it was often corrupt. Libya and Tunisia are both poised to set the example for regional cooperation in an area where business connections are rare, and their timing couldn’t be better. Recent Citibank rankings have placed two other Middle Eastern countries—Egypt and Iraq—as nations with the greatest potential for growth in the next 40 years. Investment in these growing economies would benefit all involved. This closer connection with up-and-coming neighbor economies is particularly important as Tunisia’s long-standing ties to faltering economies like those of Italy and Greece seem to be deteriorating.
With a lot of work cut out for them in the months and years ahead, it looks like as many as a quarter of a million Tunisians could finally leave the cafes and get back to work. Jobs, opportunities, and examples for their Middle Eastern neighbors may follow.