Washington: President Barack Obama on Friday praised Tunisia as the poster child of the Arab Spring, as Washington unveiled half a billion dollars in loan guarantees during the visit of Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa.
Obama said that Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began when fruit vendor Mohammad Bouazizi set himself alight in 2010, had witnessed the kind of progress sadly lacking in some other nations in the region. “What we’ve seen in the years since is that some countries have had difficulty in this transition,” Obama said as he welcomed Jomaa to the Oval Office. “The good news is that in Tunisia, where it began, we have seen the kind of progress that I think all of us had been hoping for, although it’s been full of challenges.”
Jomaa, speaking at first in French, said that his nation was on the cusp of a new economic transition. “We are counting on our own endeavors, but we are also counting on cooperation from friendly countries, in particular the United States,” to guarantee jobs, prosperity and liberty for younger Tunisians. “I would call what is happening in Tunisia a ‘start up’” he said.
In English, in a clear message to foreign partners and investors, Jomaa said: “just believe in it, just take the risk, invest in it.”
Washington on Friday formalised a $500 million (Dh1.83 billion) loan guarantee to help Tunisia access international capital markets. The United States had offered a first guarantee of $485 million two years ago. Washington also offered $400 million in direct financial aid in 2011.
The Oval Office visit was the highlight of Jomaa’s programme in Washington, which saw the prime minister carry his message of economic rejuvenation to Capitol Hill, the State Department, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Jomaa was sworn in to head a new government of independents tasked with preparing for fresh elections in January, taking over from an Islamist-led administration after a political crisis.