Magharebia (Washington DC)

Tunisia Forums Spur Mediterranean Prosperity

Tunis — Tunisia just hosted forums on how citizens from both sides of the Mediterranean can partner to improve prosperity and youth employment.

One of these meetings, the three-day Mediterranean Forum for Social and Solidarity-Based Economies or MedESS 2013, wrapped up in Tunis on May 4th with calls by participants for more action in pushing through some 70 civil society-driven initiatives for economic growth across national borders.

"We must continue to work because we have a lot in common," said Thierry Jeantet, chairman of the French organisation Rencontres du Mont-Blanc. "With co-operation and hard work we can turn dreams into realities. There are men and women in the Maghreb who are able to meet the challenge and achieve positive results."

Jeantet was among hundreds of attendees representing development associations, institutions and groups at MedESS.

"This event aims to offer a unified space for the goals of practical co-operation and ambitions, which requires the removal of barriers between traditional structures and institutions, social institutions and civil society components," was how a news release from the organisers described the intention behind MedESS.

Speaking in front of social and economic experts from Mediterranean rim countries, many of the participants spoke about their diverse experiences in helping to spur social change and progress.

Among them was Ahmed Aït Haddout, chairman of the Moroccan Network for Solidarity and Social Economy (REMESS), which helped to organise the forum in Tunis.

Haddout stressed that, in light of the economic crisis currently affecting European countries, the forum would give a boost to the actors working to bring about sweeping and broad-based social and economic change.

"The forum offered opportunities for a good understanding of the meaning of a social-based economy. It is a call to activate the role of civil society and relieve the burden on the state," said Jamila Balti, secretary general of Irada, a Tunisian organisation.

Meanwhile in Monastir, some 500 young men and women from Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Algeria and Egypt last month took part in a forum titled "Mediterranean Youths: We All Citizens."

The April 19th-21st event focussed on how young people from Maghreb and Mediterranean countries could help one another by sharing experiences and ideas for their generation's future.

Such a meeting is very important for many young people who aspire to build a better future based on partnerships and co-operation, according to Guazoua Elletaief of My Voice, a Tunisian association.

"In the end, I'm completely satisfied with this experience, which taught us how to create common things of concern to the Mediterranean region," she told Magharebia.

In inaugurating the three-day meeting, Tunisia Social Affairs Minister Khalil Zaouia reminded the participants about the country's role in the Arab Spring and how members of their generation were vital to it.

The Tunisian revolution "was staged by young people without direction from political parties. Today, Tunisia is living in a stage of building, and therefore, everyone, especially young people, must be an effective element in the revolution and in building a democratic state by monitoring the executive and legislative powers, administration and media," the minister told the conference.

Zaouia called on participants "to be effective in making the democratic course a success. In fact, they are forced to be effective in the next election."

For his part, French Ambassador to Tunisia Francois Gouyette said that financial support from his government for projects to create opportunities for Tunisian youths would help motivate them to look forward to their future. He agreed that civil society has a role in helping to bring about a better future for them.

"The Arab Spring has made civil society the spearhead for the success of the democratic process which is a daily battle," the ambassador said.

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