US Secretary of State John Kerry spent less than a day in Tunisia, in a brief visit that was about reminding Tunisians that Washington hasn’t forgotten their country’s massive economic and security problems.
“The eyes of the world are on Tunisia, and America wants Tunisia to succeed,” Kerry told reporters at a news conference on Friday with Tunisian Foreign Minister Taieb Baccouche.
“The United States will continue to support the Tunisian people as they chart their way forward,” Kerry added.
The impact of the violence in neighbouring Libya is a source of worry for the US.
Weapons are being smuggled into Tunisia, while hundreds of Tunisians are travelling there to fight.
An agreement was made with Washington to negotiate a loan of $500m. Tunisia will also receive US military hardware, including helicopters, while there was also talk of potentially sharing intelligence from US drones.
Publicly, Tunisia’s leaders are grateful. However, behind closed doors, they are also pushing for money to help create jobs.
Around one in five young Tunisians are out of work, while much of the country’s tourism industry has been destroyed following the attack on a beach resort in the town of Sousse in June.
Youssef Cherif, a consultant on North African affairs, said that “the US are rightly spending a lot of money on police, the army. But that is taking over from other fields, where they should spend money such as education, economic reforms, and development aid.”
The US likes to talk about Tunisia as an example for the rest of the Arab World. Four of Tunisia’s civil society groups were recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
But Tunisians say they need more than just money. They want to see reforms in the security sector and an end to corruption. It is only then that they will really be able to take pride in their democratic achievements.
“The US is making it look like fighting extremism comes first,” says Cherif. “That is wrong because terrorism is a short-term issue. Spending on longer-terms projects will make for a better future.”