Textiles have been one of the most solid ''crutches'' of the Tunisian economy in past years thanks to the double opportunity provided by low labor costs and incentives paving the way for foreign investors - and the technology they brought. But general economic crisis has deeply affected even this sector, and proof of it was seen at Texmed, the trade fair the city of Tunis is hosting for the 13th time.
At Texmed, 240 exhibitors - 60 of them foreign - offered production to buyers and visitors, staking everything on quality and creativity. Despite their great efforts, the crisis is visible, and documented by sales figures that failed to increase as much as expected, despite their continuing solidity.
Taking a closer look at the pavilions, the quality of the offering seems high, but negative aspects lie behind, in the difficult conditions of Tunisia today and the desperate search to relaunch the country's image, which is less than reassuring abroad.
''Our foreign customers continue to hold us in high regard, but have in fact reduced their visits because, reading about what happened, they are now scared to come, and they clearly tell us that,'' said Hamid, who has a small business in Kairouan.
The security situation remains fragile, despite everyone who has taken to to the front line, from the president of the republic, Moncef Marzouki, to Premier Hamadi Djebali, ready to declare on every occasion that the country is secure. But when business orders arrive, they do not meet expectations, leaving the fear that buyers are turning elsewhere, sweeping away years and years of profitable collaboration, and employment for tens of thousands of workers who have always distinguished themselves for their talent and availability. The ''enemy'' is nearby, and its name is Morocco, a country that with its aggressive economy is progressively eroding Tunisia's certainty of superior competitiveness, between the incentives the monarchy has the strength to offer and Tunisia's crumbling image for security.
But the situation leaves open a possibility that western buyers and investors - who are mainly Italian and French - may be substituted by others, like the Turkish who, starting from politics, are slowly showing great interest in Tunisia.