A diverse group of 114 former Members of Congress, prominent Middle East experts, and former government officials sent a letter to House and Senate Appropriators, urging them to fully fund the Obama administration’s requested increase in foreign assistance to Tunisia. The letter was signed by six former U.S. Ambassadors to Tunisia and 12 former Members of Congress, including Senators Tom Daschle, Joe Lieberman, and Richard Lugar, and former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman. Other signatories include former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, former Director of Policy Planning at the State Department Anne-Marie Slaughter, former USAID Administrator Brian Atwood, and former World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz.
“Although Tunisia has made remarkable and historic progress toward democracy, that progress remains extremely fragile, and the country needs increased outside support as it continues the very difficult task of consolidating its democratic transition,” said Stephen McInerney, Executive Director of the Project on Middle East Democracy. “As the letter notes, if Congress were to fall significantly short of the administration’s aid request for the first Arab country to take such strides toward democracy, while fully granting the request for all authoritarian U.S. allies in the region, it would send a very dangerous signal to the entire region.”
Last spring, the Obama administration requested an increase in bilateral assistance for Tunisia in Fiscal Year 2016, to $134.4 million, nearly double the existing level. Appropriators in the House recommended fully funding the request, while the Senate appropriations bill fell significantly short, providing $86.9 million. In the weeks ahead, the House and Senate will reconcile all differences in these bills, so Tunisia will ultimately receive somewhere between the Senate allocation of $86.9 million and the House level of $134.4 million.
“While $47 million in additional U.S. assistance will not alone mean the difference between success and failure in Tunisia, for Congress to follow through on the administration’s requested increase would be an important if modest step toward helping Tunisia address its mounting security and economic challenges,” said McInerney. “And it would hopefully help enable the Tunisian government to make tough choices and carry out essential political and economic reforms.”