MAY 20, 2015
On the eve of Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi’s arrival in Washington, leading experts say the West has failed to deliver appropriate assistance for the only Arab Spring country to experience a democratic transition.
“That Tunisia has managed its democratic transition while managing a struggling economy, absorbing refugees from Libya, and absorbing murderous terrorist attacks is truly miraculous,” writes Tamara Cofman Wittes, Director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy. “But these challenges still threaten the country’s delicate political balance. What Tunisia needs, as many commentators have remarked recently, is more robust support from the United States and Europe,” she argues.
Observing that U.S. support has been security-focused, Wittes fears that “a relationship with Washington that’s overly rooted in security cooperation risks repeating the same mistake U.S. administrations made for years with other Arab governments and that brought us neither democracy nor stability.”
A former civil society activist today met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to request not charity but solidarity with the country’s embryonic democracy.
“Tunisia is a democracy, is now a part of the club of democracies, and is seeking not only support, but partnership, said Mohsen Marzouk (right), Minister-Advisor in Charge of Political Affairs.
Increased turbulence in the Middle East and North Africa only raises the stakes of Tunisia’s success or failure, some sixty Tunisia and MENA region experts argue in an open letter to President Obama, urging him and his administration to support its democratic transition.
“The best antidote to the rise of extremism in the region is not further arming of local factions. It is seeking and encouraging democratic outcomes,” they write.
A senior European banker said once that the Arab countries picked the wrong time to rebel. He was referring to the fact that the Arab Spring occurred just when Europe faced its own economic slowdown, note Oussama Romdhani and Ellen Laipson, chief editor of The Arab Weekly, and president and CEO of the Stimson Center, respectively.
The West has a stake in Tunisia’s success, not just to prevent any instability from reaching Europe’s shores but also as a positive endorsement of its democratic transition, they write for The Hill:
The prospect of granting Tunisia non-NATO major partner status would be a psychological boost and could help Tunisia in its struggle against extremism. Washington and Tunis could also start the negotiation of a bilateral free trade agreement. Other measures of support are needed; donor countries in the G-7, meeting next month, could dedicate more funding for economic growth strategies that would support structural reforms and short-term job creation.
But Council on Foreign Relations analyst Steven A. Cook questionsEssebsi’s commitment to democratic reform.