One Hundred U.S. Experts Urge Increased Support for Tunisia

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For Immediate Release
On the eve of President Obama’s meeting with Beji Caid Sebsi, President of Tunisia, at the White House, Sixty Tunisia and MENA region experts sent the following OPEN LETTER to President Obama urging him and his administration to provide much support to Tunisia; the one country undertaking a successful and promising democratic transition in the entire region of the Middle East and North Africa.

May 20, 2015

The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington DC 20500



Dear Mr. President,


Tunisia celebrated the Jasmine Revolution’s fourth anniversary with the election of President Beji Caid Essebsi, who will be visiting you tomorrow at the White House. This historic Tunisian election is by most accounts the first peaceful and fully democratic transfer of power in the Arab world. However, Tunisia’s political transition has only just begun, and it will take many years to consolidate. Significant challenges remain, especially in the areas of security and the economy.


Two months ago at the Investment and Entrepreneurship conference in Tunisia, you announced that the U.S. will remain a “great friend and partner” of Tunisia as it moves forward to develop “strong and democratic institutions” along its “long and difficult path, as it works to improve the lives of its people.” The U.S. is to be congratulated for moving to increase Economic Support Funds from low pre-revolutionary levels to a $134.4 million request for FY 16. However, U.S. assistance to Tunisia continues to languish near the bottom half of MENA countries. (Assistance to Tunisia, for example, remains many times below assistance levels to Morocco and Jordan.) Security threats and other uncertainties threaten to undermine Tunisia’s halting economic recovery. While the U.S.’s own security posture has positioned it well to assist Tunisia quickly with aspects of security, economic support from the U.S. have been nothing less than disappointing.


Tunisia needs bold action from your administration and the U.S. Congress now. Tunisia needs direct economic stimulus. Tunisia needs at least $800 million annually of economic assistance (the administration has requested over $1 billion for Jordan; the request for Tunisia is less than 14% of that, for a country nearly twice the size.) For FY 2015, there needs to be an urgent supplemental appropriation for Tunisia, for which there is gathering support in Congress. The U.S. should then co-organize a fall 2015 international donor conference to address Tunisia’s short, medium, and long-term needs, with the goal of an additional $5 billion annually for three years. This optimal, multilateral approach is much better than leaving Tunisia in the position of looking for quick fixes from single Arab Gulf countries as it approaches a looming budgetary crisis.


In addition, Tunisia needs international assistance to deal with the new wave of hundreds of thousands of refugees coming from Libya, as well as the previous hundreds of thousands of Libyans whose personal savings and access to capital is on the verge of running out. Tunisia needs maritime support to deal with the migration crisis off its eastern coast; Tunisia is only 60 kilometers from Lampedusa and is perfectly positioned to play a much larger role in assisting the entire Mediterranean region in this regard. Tunisia needs to develop a re-insertion fund to support and attract former fighters returning disillusioned from conflicts in Syria and Libya. The last thing these returning fighters need is social opprobrium and economic exclusion, pushing them back into the hands of terrorist recruiters offering paychecks and support for their families.


Young people across the MENA region increasingly view lack of robust international support for Tunisia and a faltering economy that cannot provide sufficient jobs for young people as evidence that that there is no democracy dividend. As Transparency International reports attest, petty and bureaucratic corruption in Tunisia is on the rise amidst economic degradation. To mitigate against these trends and dispel this disillusionment, increased economic support funds should be targeted at combatting corruption at all levels and strengthening the very democratic institutions mentioned in your March remarks. At present, Tunisia is borrowing money simply to pay existing government salaries, hardly a context in which Tunisian can engage in the institutional overhauls necessary to overcome pre-revolutionary habits and corrupt capital flows.


To summarize, the U.S. should:
  • Increase ESF to at least $800 million annually for three years, beginning in FY 2015. A May 15 letter from ten U.S. Senators supports a significant but unspecified increase in ESF funds for 2016, and calls on this assistance to be “reliable and consistent” over several years as a part of the nascent U.S.-Tunisia strategic partnership.
  • Increase the U.S. contribution to the Tunisian American Enterprise Fund from $60 million to $100 million.
  • Increase economic assistance focused on traditional infrastructurelike roads, bridges, and other public works to create jobs and directly stimulate economic activity. This would send a message to disfavored and insecure interior areas that the miserable conditions that prompted the revolution will begin to be addressed.
  • Increase economic assistance focused on anti-corruption measures and building strong democratic institutions, scaled to the task at hand.
  • Co-organize an international donor conference with the goal of raising $5 billion annually for three years to support Tunisia’s transition.
  • Provide assistance to Tunisia to provide for African and Middle Eastern conflict refugees, Libyans falling into hard times, and economic migrants from across two continents desperate to survive and provide for their families.
  • Assist Tunisia with the creation of a re-insertion fund to support and attract foreign fighters returning disillusioned from Libya, Iraq and Syria.
  • Accelerate the progress towards a Free Trade Agreement before, during and after the 2015 meeting. The White House can help with the political aspect of this, and USTR should be urged to raise the FTA negotiations with Tunisia to the highest priority level.
  • Find programmatic means and expert assistance to support every aspect of Tunisia’s proposed 14-point economic plan, both in implementation and in assistance to mitigate the social costs of reforms, such as subsidy reform.
  • Include in any assistance package increased funds for security and justice sector reform. The perceived lack of democracy dividend in Tunisia (both among Tunisians and neighboring populations) needs to be reversed with significant increases to IMET, FMF, and ESF funds targeted to these areas. Transitional justice and security reforms have to be a primary focus, and scaled to the task.


Increased turbulence in the Middle East and North Africa only raises the stakes of Tunisia’s success or failure. U.S. policy must reorient away from primarily fighting terrorists allied with armies from less than democratic states and express this new emphasis through bold and dramatic action on Tunisia. This will demonstrate a renewed U.S. commitment to democracy and its dividends. Tunisia’s political, economic and security needs amount to less than a tenth of a percent of current military expenditures in the region. A unequivocal message to six million young Tunisians, over one and a half million displaced Libyans, and migrants from across the region will come across loud and clear-a message that the U.S. supports Tunisia and Tunisia-like outcomes, more than military action, and realizes that increased trade and entrepreneurship-while critical for Tunisia and important for the U.S.-cannot scale up to the level needed to adequately addressing Tunisia’s coming budget crisis and stagnant economic recovery.


The best antidote to the rise of extremism in the region is not further arming of local factions. It is seeking democratic outcomes. That is not always easy in the fog of war and terrorism, but right now Tunisia offers the best democratic example, ever, in the MENA region. We have to show that we care more than all else about elected and accountable governments serving their populations and increasing stability and peace. It is time to invest seriously in the Arab world’s only true democracy. Henry Kissinger recently said that the U.S. needs greater “moral clarity” in its foreign policy globally and to the Middle East region in particular. What better moral clarity could there be than backing Tunisia in its moment of need, the country that is the best hope for the MENA region?








Radwan Masmoudi                                William Lawrence
President, Center for the Study of           President, American Tunisian
Islam and Democracy                              Association


Stephen Bosworth                                 Rust Deming
Former U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia       Former U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia


William Hudson                                      Gordon Brown
Former U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia        Former U.S. Chargé d’Affaires,


Stephen Day                                           J. Scott Carpenter
Former British Ambassador to Tunisia    Former Deputy Assistant Secretary
     for Near Eastern Affairs, State


Larry Diamond                                        Alex Dehgan
Stanford University                                   Former Chief Scientist, USAID


Afred Stepan                                           Steve Heydemann
Columbia University                                 Georgetown University
John Esposito                                        Graham Fuller
University Professor                                 Former Vice-Chair
Georgetown University                             National Intelligence Council


Juan Cole                                                Yahia Zoubir
University of Michigan                               Kedge Business School


Charles Butterworth                               Bruce Lawrence
Distinguished Professor Emeritus             Distinguished Professor Emeritus
University of Maryland                               Duke University


Paul Salem                                               Wayne White
Vice President                                           Former Deputy Director
Middle East Institute                                  State Department INR/NESA


Asma Afsaruddin                                    Phillip Breedon
Chairperson of the Board, CSID               Former Minister Counselor for Public
Indiana University, Bloomington                Affairs, U.S. Embassy Tunisia


William Zartman                                      Jillian Schwedler
Johns Hopkins University                         Hunter College


Marc Gopin                                             Mohamed Malouche
George Mason University                         Chairman of the Board, Tunisian
      American Young Professionals


Earl (Tim) Sullivan                                   Charles Daris
Provost Emeritus                                       Former Political Counselor
The American University in Cairo              US Embassy Tunis


Khaled Mattawa                                       Najib Ghadbian
Award-winning Libyan writer                     Free Syrian Representative to the
      United States


James Phippard                                      Gregory White
Former President, American Tunisian       Smith College


Tarik Youssef                                           Nate Mason
Economist, Silatech                                   Mason Strategies


Mounira Charrad                                     Azzedine Layachi
University of Texas, Austin                        St. John’s University


Sameer Jarrah                                         Jocelyne Cesari
Executive Director, Network of                  Harvard and Georgetown University
Democrats in the Arab World (NDAW)


Waleed Hazbun                                       Khaeri Aboshagor
Director of Middle East Studies                Libyan Center for Democracy
American University in Beirut                   and Human Rights


Michael Ayari                                           Lawrence Michalak
Senior Tunisia Analyst                               Former Vice Chair for Middle East
International Crisis Group                          Studies, University of California,


Katherine Marshall                                  Shana Marshall
Georgetown University                              George Washington University


Andrea Khalil                                           David Mednicoff
City University of New York                       Director, Middle East Studies
      University of Massachusetts,


Hafed al-Ghwell                                       Anouar Boukhars
Atlantic Council                                         Carnegie Endowment for
      International Peace


Aly Abouzakouk                                      James Le Sueur
Libyan American Political Affairs               University of Nebraska


Nader Hashemi                                        Arun Kapil
Denver University                                      Catholic University of Paris


Tarek Al Baghdadi                                  Jawed Zouari
Libyan Center for Democracy                   Democratic National Committee and
and Human Rights                                    Seattle Central College


Ted Swedenberg                                     Abnieszka Paczynska
University of Arkansas                              George Mason University


Jacob Mundy                                           Elizabeth Bishop
Texas State University                              Colgate University


Hrach Gregorian                                      Reda Oulamine
American University                                  Arab Justice Foundation


Monica Marks                                           Mohamed Chtatou
Oxford University                                       Former senior ISESCO official


Mona Russell                                           Daanish Faruqi
East Carolina University                            Duke University


Katherine Hoffman                                  Timothy Abdallah Fuson
Northwestern University                            University of California Berkeley


Ed O’Brien                                                David Fredricks
University of the District of Columbia         Former Peace Corps Country


Kamal Oudrhiri                                         Sarah Eltantawi
Independent Activist                                   Evergreen College


Anouar Haddam                                       Timothy Resch
Movement for Liberty and Social               Former Peace Corps Volunteer
Justice, Algeria


Andrew Albertson                                   Rachida Djebel
Independent Consultant                            Baltimore Museum


Bill Aossey                                              Jose Casanova
Midamar Corporation                                Berkley Center for Religion, Peace
      and World Affairs, Georgetown


Bader Oulamine                                      Mongi Dhaouadi
Arab Justice Foundation                           Center for the Study of Islam
      and Democracy


Roxane Farmanfarmaian                        Fred Huxley
University of Cambridge                           Consultant on Socioeconomic


William Bechhoefer                                Jason Pack
University of Maryland                             Cambridge University
Peace Corps Volunteer, 1967-9


Bessma Momani                                     Cheley Aouriri
University of Waterloo                              Tunisian Community Center


Geoffrey Cook                                        Thomas DeGeorges
Non-Resident Fellow                                Former Director of CEMAT
Beirut Center for Middle East Studies


Firas Ben Achour                                     Jerry Sorkin
President, Founding Member                     Former President
Tunisian American Young Professionals    American Tunisian Association


Fathi Ghorbel                                            Hakim Ben Othman
Rice University                                           Tunis Business School


Raoudha Zarrouk                                      Souheil Kallel
Nidaa Tounes, Tunisia                                L’Accumulateur Tunisien Assad


Ashish Sen                                                Joel Rozen
Journalist                                                   Princeton University