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Friday, April 4, 2014

White House Welcomes Tunisia's Prime Minister: Promise of $400M

You can bet any time a foreign dignitary visits the Oval Office, money is probably going to be involved.

Today, President Obama promised North Africa's republic, Tunisia, a loan for $400M (or $500M, depending on who you ask) to help its nation rebuild after the torrential Arab Spring uprising.

The Arab Spring was the work of young people who had felt frustrated by the sense of injustice and favoritism so rampant with the political regime running the country for 23 years.

"Those young people are for the majority well educated, holding university degrees but with no hope of landing jobs. After the initial euphoria of the post-revolution victory and the rise of an Islamist government, their hopes dissipated and the prospects of finding a job looms further and further", said Dr. Mongi Bahloul, University of Sfax  of South, Tunisia. "An increasing number among the youth have tried to, and sometime did, leave the country to fight as Jihadists in Syria or boarded fishing boats illegally to end up as refugees on the Italian coasts."

Said President Obama, "The good news is, is that in Tunisia, where this began, we have seen the kind of progress that I think all of us have been hoping for.  Although it has been full of challenges, as any democratic process inevitably will confront, what we’ve seen now is a coming together of various factions within Tunisia, a new constitution that not only respects the individual rights of men but also women, that speaks to tolerance and respect for religious minorities.  And it creates the bedrock, the foundation for a Tunisian society that can thrive in this new global environment."

Tunisia's prime minister Medhi Jomaa, who is in the US visiting for several days, said of the support from the U.S., "I really appreciate that, and it's a great pleasure and an honor for me to be here meeting you.  It's an opportunity as well to express Tunisia’s appreciation of all the support you (the United States) are giving, (and) your personal commitment and engagement to see progress in this transition, democratic transition in the march of Tunisia towards stability and democracy."

A rather nice birthday present for Jomaa, who turns 52 on April 22nd.

Along with a meeting shoring up "economic recovery" for Tunisia, Prime Minister Jomaa joined
President Obama in greeting 10 of the 65 Tunisian students currently studying in the United States as part of the Thomas Jefferson Scholarship Program.  This $10 million initiative launched in 2012 is sending approximately 400 Tunisian undergraduate students for one academic year of undergraduate studies at U.S. universities and community colleges.  This year, the United States plans to double this program with an additional $10 million, pending Congressional approval.  This program enhances youth employability, promotes direct people-to-people engagement, and furthers long-term economic growth in Tunisia by developing human capital.

The students are from Bizerte, Kasserine, Sfax, Tatouine, Ben Arous, Kairouan, Monastir, Ariana, and El Kef.  They are studying at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky; Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Nazareth College of Rochester in Rochester, New York; Emporia State University, in Emporia, Kansas; Seattle Central Community College; Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Spokane Community College; Northeast Wisconsin Technical College; Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; and Concord University in Athens, West Virginia.

(Student info source: WH pool reporter Dave Cook from the Christian Science Monitor).

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