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Will Saied break with the IMF or is he just maneuvering?

While Europe, and Italy in particular, are trying to find a way out of the crisis with the famous USD 1.9 billion loan, which will only serve to plug a hole in the budget if it is not used to pay off previous debts, the Tunisian head of state has just reiterated his rejection of this solution to Tunisia’s economic and financial problems.

At an impromptu press conference in Monastir, where Kaïs Saïed had gone to commemorate Bourguiba’s death, and with choppy answers and digressions on other subjects, the Head of State indicated that “as far as the IMF is concerned, we reject all instructions from outside that do not lead to more reflection. We must rely on ourselves. On experience, on benchmarks”.

We don’t know what he meant by the terms “experience” and “benchmark”, but we do know that King Saïd is rejecting again the 8 reforms demanded by the IMF in October 2022 in order to move to the stage after the “Staff Level Agreement (SLA).” This rejection is obviously not categorical, as it would only apply to the terms of the loan. Rather, Saied’s words seem to imply a period of reflection and perhaps even further negotiations on the reform plan that formed the basis of the SLA.

In this new approach to negotiations that he wants to impose on the IMF, the Tunisian head of state argues against the reforms demanded by putting forward social peace and reminds us of the possible consequences of a breach of this peace. He recalled in one of his digressions the events of January 1984, also known as the “bread riots”. And the issue that would lead Saïed to say no, if we follow the labyrinth of his thoughts, which are difficult to translate into structured and clear sentences, would be the issue of subsidy.

“Subsidy needs to be removed. It’s true that many other categories benefit from it, but we have to find other ways to ensure that subsidy reaches the real beneficiaries. The fact remains that social peace is not a toy or an easy thing. We are not going to listen to instructions. We will only listen to the word of God and the voice of the people,” said the head of state in Monastir on April 6.

And in this answer, which is rambling and requires him to find the thread of his thoughts in order to put them together into a correct sentence, Saïed wants “the world and financial institutions such as the IMF to understand that people are not just numbers, additions and subtractions. There is social peace and there are other possibilities. They just have to hear us. We want the world to respect the will of the people.”

And even if this hint was drowned out by his favorite subject of corruption and stolen money that foreign banks would not return, it was clear that Saied’s latest position was not a refusal, but a desire to renegotiate the terms of the loan, and that he wanted the IMF to think “outside the box”.

What is certain, however, is that Saïed is in no hurry to accept the IMF agreement and that he seems tempted to maneuver with the IMF, under Western pressure, so that it grants Tunisia the USD 1.9 billion, a different reform plan, a different way of reforming without upsetting the social balances, which are as fragile as the financial balances in Tunisia.

He was talking about the IMF when he heard the sound of a plane taking off from Monastir airport. He stopped, looked up at the sky and suddenly digressed into what had just happened in Al Quds, shouting to anyone who would listen, if they would accept it.


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