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G8 to give $10 billion to Tunisia to jumpstart its economy

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Wealthy nations belonging to the Group of Eight (G8) plan to provide Tunisia with $10 billion in aid to help its languishing economy, a well-placed source told Al Arabiya on Thursday.

The disclosure came after Tunisian Prime Minister Beji Kaed Essebsi’s visit to Paris where he met his counterpart Francois Fillon last Tuesday. Mr. Essebsi then met French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday.

The source told Al Arabiya, “It is a strong and clear message from the G8 to the Arab world.”

France, which holds the rotating presidency of the G8, has invited Tunisia and Egypt to participate in the next summit of the Group.

Paris emphasized that this initiative aims to “support the democracy transition in the Arab world.”

The eight major industrialized countries of the group were expected to use the opportunity of the summit to bring forward “action plans” to help Tunisia and Egypt overcome economic difficulties, thus ultimately promoting democratic reform in the region.

“If we let them (Egypt and Tunisia) get bogged down in economic difficulties, the political transition will be threatened,” said French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe.

Leaders of the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Russia will get together on May 26 and 27 in Deauville, a port city in northern France.

It is clear that the summiteers will discuss adopting an action plan to help both countries succeed in their path to democracy.

Many European and American politicians emphasis that the eruption of pro-democracy movements in the Middle East and North Africa was “the most important development of the early 21st century,” with long-term consequences potentially more profound than 9/11 or the 2008 financial crash.

Last month Mr. Juppé offered 350 million euros ($499.3 million) in aid in a bid to improve relations between the two countries, after what was widely seen as France’s bungled response to Tunisia's popular uprising earlier this year.

Recently too, 200 international bankers, business leaders, academics and other figures called for investment in Tunisia.

In a petition released ahead of this month’s G8 summit, to which Tunisia has been invited, the signatories praised the country as a prime investment destination, citing its educated workforce.

Tunisia faces short-term instability following former President Zain Elebedin Ben Ali’s departure, said the “Invest in Democracy” petition, which is to appear in international newspapers ahead of the May 26-27 summit in France.

But “we are confident that the establishment of democratic institutions will be a major factor in improving the attractiveness and the economic performances on medium and long term,” it said.

“That is why we are more than ever confident in the economic development prospects of Tunisia,” according to the statement on the organization’s Website.

The former president was in power for 23 years before being ousted in January and moving to Saudi Arabia. His removal kicked off similar uprisings across the Arab world, with Egypt's long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak falling in February.

(Ammar Ben Aziz, a senior editor at Al Arabiya, can be reached at: [email protected])