Your Middle East
Last updated: 1 December, 2013

Is Tunis the city to watch?

"An island of relative stability" about to blossom. That’s how Monocle, the fashionable current affairs magazine, labels the capital of Tunisia. We asked our Tunis-based editor if the description fits reality.

According to Monocle, Tunis has become a City to Watch, despite continuing socio-political turmoil. The paper refers to a new generation of social changemakers, young entrepreneurs and an overall positive business climate. The Tunisian government is hunting investments from neighbouring countries on the African continent and Chinese money is expected to bring important infrastructure deals to the table.

We decided to check in with our Tunis-based editor Christine Petré to see how well the image of Tunis as this year’s City to Watch mirrors reality.

“Tunis, and Tunisia, has great potential,” she says. “Many young people I meet here are very impressive, they have a lot of innovative ideas, are ambitious and have strong personalities, but unfortunately, because of the political instability and economic situation, many are hampered and are therefore looking for possibilities to leave. They just don’t see a lucrative future here.”

Do you feel optimistic about Tunis’s future?
“I feel optimistic because of the people I meet, many young and creative. There are new projects and start-ups that will be interesting to follow, however, there is also a reaction from the many years of dictatorship that seems to make people lazy (this is especially noticeable within the service sector, where people don’t seem to see a reason to do anything more than is required), a little bit lost and due to the economic situation pessimistic, but I think it will take time, people need to be more patient.”

Tunisian youth have been continuously disenfranchised – is this about to change?
“To me the Tunisian youth is strong and persistent, it is smart and innovative. There are for example countless of cultural exhibitions, one young woman I know does street poetry, another creates art from glass bottles, I mean that’s impressive! But at the same time Tunisia seems to be going through an identity crisis, people are not sure what place religion will play in society and it seems to confuse some of its youngsters.”

Have you seen any creative/innovative solutions at work lately?
“I have seen interesting initiatives within the environmental field, two young guys (one Tunisian) are now for example completing a documentary about the impact of climate change on Tunisia, TEDxCarthageWomen is about to begin in the coming week and not too long ago we had another TEDxCarthage event.

I visited Manouba University and their digital economy department was very impressive

“Now there are also businesses focusing on entrepreneurship like SUST (Start-up System Tunisie), which arranges start-up weekend events and the town has also hosted a number of tech summits and entrepreneurial events. I’ve also heard that there are incubators popping up downtown. Last week I visited Manouba University and their digital economy department was very impressive, not the least their incubators and international collaborations.”

Where will Tunis be in five years?
“Hopefully it will be a role-model when it comes to cosmopolitanism, a place where everyone is welcome and where the economic situation is an opportunity rather than an obstacle, but I think it will take time, people need to try to remain optimistic, but considering the determination of the youth here they will get there.”