Nearly five years into the democratic work in progress and in the immediate wake of a bomb explosion that killed twelve in the capital, demands for and promises of US support for “the Arab Spring’s sole success” appear increasingly tired and misguided.
As demands continue for more support to Tunisia and the country reels from its third terrorist attack this year, one has the sense that recent history is stuck on replay. Barely two weeks ago, Secretary of State John Kerry was in Tunis for the second Strategic Dialogue to discuss the main axes—economy, governance, security—of the Tunisia-US partnership. In the meantime, various specialists, diplomats, and officials have called for Congress to increase foreign assistance to Tunisia as senators and house representatives hurry to finalize the budget for fiscal year 2016.
Bolstering support for Tunisia
The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) is a Washington-based organization with a mission to “strengthen the constituency for U.S. policies that peacefully support reform in the Middle East.” In the weeks leading up to the first Strategic Dialogue in which President Obama and former Prime Minister Jomaa convened in Washington in April 2014, POMED published an open letter to Secretary Kerry: 65 reputable diplomats, entrepreneurs, and researchers signed to encourage the US to “deepen” and “bolster” its support for Tunisia’s democratic gains.
A letter published last month by POMED called for stronger U.S. support for Tunisia through increased aid. Addressed to four US senators and house representatives, the letter criticized Congress’ failure to grant the full funding—134.4 million dollars for fiscal year 2016—requested for Tunisia by the Obama administration:
While we recognize budgetary constraints, we also note with concern that House and Senate appropriators did manage to fully fund or exceed the administration’s budget request for all authoritarian U.S. allies in the Arab world…
Among the 114 individuals who signed the letter are Stephen McInerney (POMED), William J. Burns (Carnegie Endowment), Tamara Cofman Wittes (Brookings Institution), Barbara Slavin (Atlantic Council), Radwan Masmoudi (Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy), Mohamed Malouche (Tunisian American Young Professionals), Juan Cole (University of Michigan).
Will counter-terrorism undermine the revolution?
In the global fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), the United States needs to support Tunisia and its democratization and stop supporting authoritarianism. Attributed to Daniel Brumberg during the panel discussion on Countering Terrorism in Tunisia, 16 November 2015.
Three days after Kerry’s visit to Tunis, a panel on Countering Terrorism in Tunisia: Prospects for Security Sector Reform took place in Washington, D.C.. Organized by POMED and the London-based Legatum Institute, participants characterized Tunisia’s security apparatus and discussed how US and international actors can assist security sector and ministerial reform. A report Tunisia at Risk: Will counter-terrorism undermine the revolution? by Legatum Institute Visiting Fellow Fadil Aliriza served as a springboard for the discussion.
This paper argues that a shift is taking place in Tunisia’s politics, from a narrative of reform to a narrative of counterterrorism. Not only is this change anti-democratic, it is counterproductive. Paradoxically, Western aid provided to help Tunisia fight the war on terrorism may be helping to achieve the opposite of what is intended.
Examining the evolution of the country’s security apparatus through the revolution and transitional period, Aliriza formulates conclusions and recommendations for the country’s politicians and allies. He describes the “culture of danger” which enabled the Ministry of the Interior to occupy a central role in the State under President Ben Ali, and suggests that the revolution represents a missed opportunity for greater civilian control of the security apparatus. After 2011, the Interior Ministry regained power through the media, shaping public perception about violence and threats to national security. With the Chaambi Mountain attack in 2013 and electoral campaigns in 2014, “vigorous but ultimately incompetent counterterrorism tactics” were carried out by security forces while politicians employed counterterrorism discourse to link terrorism with political opponents.
A “republican police” which has remained unaccountable to the citizenry as well as a lack of coordination among security forces has led to a disjointed security apparatus which failed to respond effectively to the Bardo and Sousse attacks. The President’s declaration of a state of emergency in July 2015 set the stage for infringement on freedoms of expression and association. Describing the “dangerous tactics” employed by security forces, Aliriza points out how prolific and arbitrary arrests (100,000 Tunisians, or one percent of the population, were arrested in the first half of 2015, according to the Ministry of the Interior) and the torture of suspected “terrorists” and detainees may fuel radicalization.
«But although a large portion of foreign assistance to Tunisia takes the form of security assistance», Aliriza concludes, «security sector reform in the deeper sense is not foremost on anyone’s agenda … Operational achievements at a tactical level do not necessarily achieve much if dysfunctional state institutions, corruption, and divergent interests and goals with a security apparatus are not also addressed».
A familiar course of events
Official response to Tuesday’s attack provides a case-in-point for Aliriza’s analysis. The course of events following the explosion was familiar: a panicked flurry of rumors and contradictory reports, the aggressive dispersal of journalists who showed up to cover the incident, and the Presidency’s immediate announcement of a state of emergency and curfew between the hours of 9pm and 5am. On Twitter and in press releases, foreign allies have mechanically condemned the violence and expressed their solidarity with Tunisia.
While officials and diplomats continue to call for increased foreign assistance to Tunisia, researchers and ordinary citizens are increasingly aware of the difference between the quantity and quality of assistance provided.
U.S. strongly condemns today’s terrorist attack that targeted a bus carrying members of Tunisia’s security forces. https://t.co/RFELxihHtg
— Department of State (@StateDept) November 25, 2015
….”Western aid provided to help Tunisia fight the war on terrorism may be helping to achieve the opposite of what is intended” …
The West in general, especially France, are considered as Crusaders, enemies to Islam.
Starting with the Crusades , 1000 years ago, the fall of Constantinople, the colonization … a continuous war between Islam and the West.
Whatever the West is doing to help, it is perceived as a sort of wolf disguised grand’ma.
@ Sputnik ibn Sarukh (sputnik son –of-a- missile ) ??
With such a dull name, you won’t make the first round of being taken seriously in the ongoing debate .
Give yourself a decent name before you engage in the discussion . You do have a name like everyone else, I presume … or do you ? Then use it !!!!!
As for the Crusades, and the rise and fall of Constantinople, it’s too far-fetched to make the link between the suicide bombing on Mohamed V Avenue, and the decline of the Ottoman Empire . And even absurd to blame it on the Crusades .
If you re-read Vanessa’s article carefully you would perhaps change your mind on whether Tunisia should do all it can to stop this spiral of lunacy, and root out those vicious maniaks . Or should Tunisia remain idle and surrender to this bunch of loonies, by not accepting any froreign assistance ?…just to satisfy you ? I don’t think so….
Yes, the assumption that “Foreign help” may fuel Radicalization, is an obvious conclusion . But Radicalization has been already an existing phenomenon, with or without increased foreign assistance . The staggering number of tunisian jihadists, dispatched to fight in Syria and elsewhere, was a time-bomb in the making, waiting just to gather momentum and explode right in our faces .
It’s definitely true, that Radicalizing among tunisian youth, must be seen as the total sum of dozens of factors that have accumulated over time, i.e. mass-unemployment among youth, alienation, absence of perspective , uncertainty about the future …This is the main cause, yet we all know that some Gulf states operated as recruiters en sponsors of several jihadist-groups, from all over arab countries, but we tend to look the other way, which is pretty remarkable how selective we can be in our judgements .
There are three known Oil-States in the arabian penensula, responsible for the mayhem that’s been going on, since the Arab-Spring uprising and continues still as we speak . In order to put it on the agenda, we need a heavy-weight whisleblower, like France for intanse, the UK, or the USA, to put the ball in the saudi’s camp . This time for real . World security must outweigh national interest, albeit till the sponsering & armament of these groups ends unconditionally .
The big dilemma is – damned if we do, damned if we don’t – when it comes to foreign help . Not only in the fight against global terrorism, but on a countless number of other issues, where Tunisia depends solely on western help (Tourism, export / import , commerce, Industrial hardware, High-Tech , research….you name it ! ) … Right now, that’s the way it is . Regardless if we like it or not . See for yourself, what happens when the flow of western tourists would stop completely, and weigh the impact on the Economy . No hard currency to cover the State’s expenses which will lead to “bankrupcy”, in the long run . Anyone can tell you that . You don’t need no expert . So western help will remain in place . Take it or leave it . You know why ? Because you have no other alternative, for the timebeing . If you don’t stick to what you have, you may likely not be able to manage it on your own . Opportunism is a lousy adviser . Don’t let opportunism fool you !
@ Karim , better than Kerim …
….”With such a dull name,” …
Well actually it’s not a name, merely a pseudo. I cant’ give my real name due to my radical approach to religion, not only islam. See posts by Sheikh DUKHANI.
as for Western aid: this is not to help you, but to keep you under developed.
Korea, colonized by Japan, did not get japanese help. They built their industry by themselves, and succeeded.
just an example among others, to follow
Very interesting, we need article like this, very useful, thank you