Obama praises Tunisia as model of Arab Spring

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to the press next to Tunisia’s Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, April 4, 2014. (Reuters)

U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday praised Tunisia as the poster child of the Arab Spring, as Washington unveiled $500 million in new assistance to help revive the North Africa nation’s faltering economy as it continues its march toward democracy.

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 lacking in some other nations in the region during the visit of Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa to the U.S..

“What we’ve seen in the years since is that some countries have had difficulty in this transition,” Agence France-Presse quoted Obama, who welcomed Jomaa to the Oval Office, as saying.

“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,” Obama added.

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, AFP reported him as saying.

“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.”

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.

$500 million in aid

On Friday, Obama announced the U.S. would allocate $500 million in aid to Tunisia.

The assistance will be in the form of a U.S. loan guarantee that will make it easier for Tunisia to borrow money.

The country is looking to close an estimated $2 billion to $3 billion hole in this year’s budget, most likely through borrowing.

It is the second loan guarantee the U.S. has provided Tunisia, following a $485 million loan guarantee in 2012.

In remarks before the White House meeting, Obama said the U.S. has a “huge investment in making sure Tunisia’s experiment is successful.”

The initial promise of the 2011 pro-democracy revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa has faded in many countries, with a military ouster in Egypt, a civil war in Syria in its fourth year and militia-fueled uncertainty in Libya, which shares a border with Tunisia.

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Last Update: 19:04 KSA 22:04 - GMT 19:04
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