"Tourism needs stability and people have to feel safe and at ease, but unfortunately we are in a transitional phase and there are still problems of security," said Jalel Bouricha, president of Yadis Hotels.
One constant complaint of Tunisians, especially those in the poorer interior, is that little has improved for them in the 18 months after the uprising that overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Unemployment remained at 18.1 percent in the first quarter of 2012, unacceptably high despite dropping from 18.9 percent in the previous quarter.
Some 34 percent of those with college degrees are unemployed, according to government statistics.
Tunisia's new government, led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party, finally launched in May and June a long-anticipated series of infrastructure projects — especially in the impoverished interior.
"The recovery is based on the role of the state to re-energize the economy with public spending on infrastructure and community facilities," Saidi, the deputy prime minister for the economy, told AP. "We must adopt a policy of expansion to relaunch the economy and accept a budget deficit of 6 percent just for 2012."
The government is increasing spending — and its deficit — in the hope that it will create jobs and encourage investment through improved infrastructure. Saidi estimates that the new projects will create 20,000 jobs, with another 25,000 to be created within the government.
Tunisia is also borrowing to pay for its unemployment benefit program, which it hopes will help calm social unrest. Saidi said the program cost about $370 million last year, money the state can ill afford.
Saidi wants to retool the program to include training for degree holders so that they are more attractive to private-sector employers — but risks further social unrest if he ultimately decides to end it.
The government has forecast a modest growth rate for 2012 of 3.5 percent, a dramatic improvement over last year's contraction, but not much better than 2010.
Before his dismissal, Nabli of the central bank predicted two scenarios for the country: a rapid recovery in the coming years that will create the jobs needed, or a drawn-out process of anemic growth that risks foundering in social upheaval.
"The question is how quickly we will reach a level of growth that will create jobs," he said. "There is a good probability for either scenario. I say it can go 50-50 either way."
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