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Tunisia Marks 18th Ann. of "Nov. 7 Change"
Tunisia Hosts World Summit on Info Society Nov. 16-18
Special Contribution
By Tunisian Embassy in Seoul
Amb. Moncef Baati of Tunisian Embassy in Seoul

Tunisian Embassy in Seoul contributed to The Seoul Times a lengthy article on some aspects of Tunisia's progress in the recent years on the occasion of the 18th Anniversary of "7th November Change" in Tunisia.

The "Anniversary of Change" refers to a historic turning point in the Tunisian history, as on Nov. 7, 1987, the current president, Mr. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who at the time was prime minister and the constitutionally ordained successor, became the republic's second president, after former President Bourguiba became unable, for health reasons, to continue assuming his duties.

Despite their geographical distance, Tunisia and Korea have old and excellent relations which were established at the diplomatic level since March 31, 1969. Both Countries have also many similarities, in particular their long history and rich civilizations that left their mark over the years. Today, Tunisia and Korea share common aspiration for peace and prosperity in the world, with due respect and endeavors to respect of international legality and principles of the United Nations Charter.

While celebrating this national occasion, Tunisia is proud of its political, social and economic achievements, a fact that was confirmed by most reports issued by the international institutions and organizations which agree all that Tunisia is amongst the emergent countries with a strong development potential.

Based on a permanent search for balance between the social and the economic dimensions, Tunisia achieved during the recent years a sound economic performance while continuing its social progress. Ranked among the 80 most developed countries in the world, the annual growth of the Tunisian economy exceeded 5 percent over the past ten years, far exceeding the demographic growth which stood at 1.1.

President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia

Exports account 43 percent of GDP with a substantial rise of the share of manufactured goods in total exports ( 90 percent in 2004). Tunisia's principal exports are manufactured goods, eclectic and electronic components, textile and agro-food products including its internationally renowned olive oil which entered the Korean market two years ago. Tourism, with six millions visitors per year, constitutes also an important source of income for the Tunisian economy.

Thanks to the country's attractive assets and business environment, thousands of foreign companies, mainly from Europe, have direct investments in Tunisia. These foreign companies were attracted by our country's proximity to Europe (less than one hour flight from Rome) as well as its preferential trading relations with the European Union, the Arab, Middle East and African countries, besides its encouraging Investment Act, which offers a wide range of incentives and concessions to foreign investors.

At the same time, the Tunisian government set a judicious social policy based on a fair distribution of the fruits of growth, which allowed a continuous improvement of the population's well being. Thanks to this policy, 80 percent of the Tunisian population is considered today as a middle class, owning their homes with a per capita income among the best in the region. The poverty rate went down from 60 percent in 1960 to less than 4 percent in 2004.

The success of this socio-economic model is due particularly to the great value placed in Tunisia on education since independence. More than 20 percent of the government operation budget is annually allocated for primary and secondary education, a figure that is among the highest in the world. Nowadays, almost 100 percent of Tunisian children between the age of sixth and 16th enjoy free and compulsory education.

Since 1987, a far-reaching effort has been initiated by the government to reform the educational system by introducing the values of tolerance, openness, democracy and human rights, while doing away with all expressions of bigotry, sexism and fanaticism in textbooks and school curricula. Proficiency in foreign languages and new technologies is also strongly encouraged.

Amb. Moncef Baati (6th from right) of Tunisian Embassy in Seoul poses with Mrs. ambassador (5th from right), Counsellor Jalil Ben Rabeh (right), deputy head of Tunisian mission, and other Tunisian geusts at the ambassadorial residence Nov. 5, 2005.

Another strong point illustrating the successful model of the Tunisian society consists in the fact that Tunisian women enjoy since independence their full rights and assume a major role in the development process and in all walks of life. Women compose today about a quarter of the working population and they are involved in all economic, social and political activities.

The ratio of female has evolved in all economic sectors as women account today 50 percnet of teachers in primary and secondary schools, 40 percent in higher education institutions, 27 percent of judges and 31 percent of lawyers, 42 percent of the medical profession, 72 percent of pharmacists , 32 percent of engineers and 24 percent4 of journalists. There are also over 5,000 female heads of businesses. Tunisian woman is also very active on the political life. Ladies also won an unprecedented percentage of 22.7 percent in the Tunisian Parliament following the last general election in October 2004. It is one of the highest figures not only in the Arab region but also worldwide.

As far as Tunisia's foreign policy is concerned, I should mention that Tunisia has always stressed the need for a comprehensive approach to address the pending international issues, insisting on the intimate interrelation between peace, security, and development.

Consequently, Tunisia has taken important initiatives in Africa and in the Arab world to prevent or resolve conflicts peacefully, and has consistently participated since the 1960s in peacekeeping missions throughout the world. Similarly, Tunisia sent hundreds of peacekeeping soldiers to Cambodia, Namibia, Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi and the Congo.

Tunisia follows also with deep satisfaction the resumption of dialogue between the different parties in the framework of "the six parties' talks" and looks forward to a positive outcome from these talks, wishing they lead to a peaceful resolution of all the pending issues.

On the other hand, Tunisia plays a crucial role in adopting and stimulating the process of reform, modernization and development in the Arab world, especially after hosting the Summit of the Arab Heads of States, in May 2004. It is also firmly committed to strengthen the bonds of cooperation and integration with its neighbors, giving particular importance to the building of the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA), the regional North African grouping which includes Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Libya and Mauritania.

The consolidation of co-development and interdependence between the southern shore of the Mediterranean and the European Community constitutes also one of top priorities of Tunisia's foreign policy. In December 2003, Tunisia successfully hosted the first Summit called "5+5" for dialogue between the ten Countries of the western and southern shores of the Mediterranean (Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Malta) and more recently, Tunisia hosted the Euromed Forum.

As regards Tunisia's approach in fighting terrorism and extremism, Tunisia was among the first countries which set a comprehensive strategy aiming to addresses both the roots and consequences of this scourge. This meant curtailing the problems of illiteracy, poverty and exclusion that usually provide a fertile ground for extremist movements. Tunisia has also called, regularly since the early 1990s, for greater regional and international cooperation in this field.

Consequently, President Ben Ali has taken many regional and international initiatives on this matter, particularly His Excellency's proposal in 1999 to establishing a World Solidarity Fund for Poverty Eradication (WSF). The initiative was unanimously adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2002 and the WSF was officially launched in February 2003 as a trust of the UNDP. It is to be replenished through voluntary contributions from individuals, foundations and Governments. A high level committee comprising eminent international personalities representing the different continents has been entrusted with the elaboration of strategies to run the WSF and to mobilize the necessary funds for the project implantation in a near future.

Being committed to world partnership and solidarity, Tunisia struggled at the international level to strengthen cooperation between the North and the South, so as to lay the foundations of a world partnership for development without exclusion or disparity.

It is within this context, that HE President Ben Ali called for a solidarity based partnership between the North and the South in the field of information communication technologies. Being convinced that the widening digital divide is not only a technological gap but also could impede human development and the dialogue between civilizations, Tunisia , initiated since 1998 the idea of organizing a World Summit on Information Society (WSIS), aiming at reducing the digital divide between the developed and developing countries. This Summit will take place at Tunis from the 16th to the 18th of this month.

Organized under the auspices of the ONU, the WSIS constitutes an opportunity for the international community to reach negotiated and harmonious solutions for the widening gap in ICT sector between the North and the South and to develop an approach for action allowing the advent of an Information Society that is balanced and accessible to all.

I wish that Korean operators in ICT's sector seize this important opportunity to actively contribute to the success of the WSIS and confirm their leading role on this occasion, so as to bring their rich and valuable experience to all participants and to strengthen by the way their cooperation activities with the other partners from all over the world, including Tunisia.

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