open letter to president obama - Project on Middle East Democracy

For Immediate Release
Media Contact:
Name: Dr. William Lawrence
Title: Director of MENA Programs at CSID
Phone: 202-772-3370
Email address: [email protected]
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
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 and military
assistance to Tunisia from low pre-revolutionary levels to a $134.4 million request
for FY 16, but 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 and counterterrorism, economic inputs 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, but 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 an international donor conference in
the fall of 2015 to address Tunisia's short, medium and long-term needs, with the
goal of an additional $5 billion annually for three years to address Tunisia's
impending budget shortfalls. 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 the looming budgetary crisis.
In addition, Tunisia needs international assistance to deal with the new wave of
hundreds of thousands of refugees coming from Libya, and the previous hundreds
of thousands of Libyans whose personal savings and access to capital is quickly
running out. Tunisia also 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 also 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 Tunisian 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 that you mentioned in your March
remarks. Now, 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
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. More importantly, this would send a message to
disfavored and insecure interior areas that the miserable conditions there
that prompted the revolution will begin to be addressed.
Increase economic assistance focused on anti-corruption
measuresand building strong democratic institutions.
Co-organize an international donor conference with the goal of raising
$5 billion annually for three years to support Tunisia's political and
economic transition.
Provide assistance to Tunisia to provide for African and Middle
Eastern conflict refugees, Libyans falling into hard times, and economic
migrants from across the African and Asian continents desperate to survive
and provide for their families.
Accelerate the progress towards a Free Trade Agreement before,
during and after the June Trade and Investment Framework Agreement
(TIFA) 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 any
necessary 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.
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 to
everyone a renewed U.S. commitment to democracy and democratic 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 and other populations from across the region will come across loud and
clear-a message that the U.S. supports Tunisia and Tunisia-like outcomes, more
than just military action, and realizes the increased trade and entrepreneurshipwhile critical for Tunisia and important for the U.S.-cannot rise to the level of
adequately addressing Tunisia's coming budget crisis and stagnant postrevolutionary economic recovery.
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. This 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
President, Center for the Study of
Islam and Democracy
William Lawrence
President, American Tunisian
Stephen Bosworth
Former U.S. Ambassador to
J. Scott Carpenter
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary
for Near Eastern Affairs, State
John Esposito
University Professor
Georgetown University
Graham Fuller
Former Vice-Chair
National Intelligence Council
Charles Butterworth
Distinguished Professor Emeritus
University of Maryland
Bruce Lawrence
Distinguished Professor Emeritus
Duke University
Gordon Brown
Former U.S. Chargé d'Affaires, Tunisia
Paul Salem
Vice President, Middle East Institute
Asma Afsaruddin
Chairperson of the Board, CSID
Indiana University
Phillip Breedon
Former Minister Counselor for Public
Affairs, U.S. Embassy Tunisia
William Zartman
Johns Hopkins University
Jillian Schwedler
Hunter College
Afred Stepan
Columbia University
Marc Gopin
George Mason University
Steve Heydemann
Georgetown University
Mohamed Malouche
Chairman of the Board, Tunisian
American Young Professionals
Wayne White
Former Deputy Director
State Department INR/NESA
Khaled Mattawa
Award-winning Libyan writer
James Phippard
Former President, American Tunisian
Gregory White
Smith College
Tarik Youssef
Nate Mason
Mason Strategies
Najib Ghadbian
Waleed Hazbun
Free Syrian Representative to the U.S. Director of Middle East Studies
American University in Beirut
Andrea Khalil
City University of New York
David Mednicoff
Director, Middle East Studies
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Hafed al-Ghwell
Atlantic Council
Anouar Boukhars
Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace
Aly R. Abouzakouk
Libyan American Political Affairs
James Le Sueur
University of Nebraska
Nader Hashemi
Denver University
Arun Kapil
Catholic University of Paris
Tarek Al Baghdadi
Libyan Center for Democracy
and Human Rights
Jawed Zouari
Democratic National Committee and
Seattle Central College
Ted Swedenberg
University of Arkansas
Abnieszka Paczynska
George Mason University
Jacob Mundy
Texas State University
Elizabeth Bishop
Colgate University
Hrach Gregorian
American University
Reda Oulamine
Arab Justice Foundation
Monica Marks
Mohamed Chtatou
Oxford University
Former senior ISESCO official
Mona Russell
East Carolina University
Daanish Farouki
Duke University
Katherine Hoffman
Northwestern University
Timothy Abdallah Fuson
University of California Berkeley
Ed O'brien
University of the District of Columbia
David Fredricks
Former Peace Corps Country
Kamal Oudrhiri
Grove of Hope
Sarah Eltantawi
Evegreen College
Anouar Haddam
Movement for Liberty and Social Justice
Timothy Resch
Former Peace Corps Volunteer
Ashish Sen
Joel Rozen
Princeton University
Albert Abertson
Independent Consultant
Libya Program Manager
Rachida Djebel
Baltimore Museum
Bill Aossey
Midamar Corporation
Jose Casanova
Berkley Center for Religion, Peace,
and World Affairs, Georgetown
P.S.: To add your name to the letter, please send name and affiliation to William
Lawrence at: [email protected]
About CSID:
CSID is a Washington DC-based think tank and advocacy non-profit organization,
founded in 1999, that seeks to promote freedom, democracy, and human rights in the
Arab and Islamic World, and seeks to assist democratic transitions in the countries of the
Arab Spring by promoting national dialogue and national unity between moderate
Islamists and secularists and modern tolerant, and a progressive interpretation of Islam
for the 21st century.
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