A movement has emerged calling on the Tunisian government to lift its heavy regulations on Paypal, the world’s leading online payment company, which have rendered its services largely impotent within the country.
The Central Bank of Tunisia is concerned that Paypal could threaten its tight trade policy. A closed currency, the Tunisian Dinar is not allowed to be taken out of the country and faces rigid limits on convertibility (Tunisians are only allowed to convert a certain amount of Dinars per year to other currencies). The government welcomes foreigners to spend in Tunisia, yet discourages citizens from spending abroad in an effort to keep money circulating within the country’s borders and support domestic industry.
This policy prevents Tunisian consumers from accessing a world of goods, yet the virtual prohibition of Paypal has also prevented the twenty-first century’s revolutionary e-commerce movement from taking hold domestically in Tunisia, where no standard, convenient, and secure payment platform exists for online shopping.
Ahmed Ouradi, a 24 year-old web developer, has devoted himself to the movement in part because of how greatly not having Paypal has disadvantaged his business practice. He describes struggling to purchase licenses (which he reports to cost about $100) to access major software markets like Google Play and Apple’s App Store.
“While avenues exist for Tunisian businesses to make important foreign purchases, they can be slow and bureaucratic,” said Ouradi, who laments having to ask favors of friends and family in France – where access to online purchases don’t face the same restrictions – rather than waiting “something like 10 days by going through domestic banks.”
Tunisian industry is also hurt by regulations on Paypal, facing difficulties when selling things online because they lack access to the platform that most international buyers are using.
“Other people around the world have Paypal, and that’s how they want to do business,” continues Ouradi, who believes that the standardized online payment service would allow greater access to markets in the Americas. “It’s not just for developers. Businesses in Tunisia are being prevented from reaching customers abroad by the lack of any common and reliable payment system.”
Supporters of the #WinouPaypal campaign (“Where is Paypal” in Tunisian Arabic), which has led calls to improve access to Paypal, understand the dangers presented by lifting all restrictions on the service. In a popular video discussing the issue, a web developer representing the campaign suggests possible compromises for Paypal access in accordance with Tunisia’s economic policy, such as an annual quota on Paypal spending (the system that has been adopted in Morocco). Yet by blocking Paypal almost completely, he stresses, the government is severely holding back Tunisia’s economy.
Supporters of the campaign have organized a gathering outside the Central Bank of Tunisia on January 25.
— Nader Yamoun (@NaderYamoun) January 13, 2015
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Jeremy is a journalist for Tunisia Live whose interests range from American foreign policy to ancient history. He has a Bachelors degree in Political Science from Boston College. Jeremy speaks English and Spanish.