‘Time is running out’ for Tunisia



The United States and Europe must engage in a joint transatlantic approach to support Tunisia’s democratization, says a new report. They should work to avoid duplication of assistance efforts through information-sharing, strategic coordination, and programmatic transparency, authors Frances G. Burwell, Amy Hawthorne, Karim Mezran, and Elissa Miller contend in A Transatlantic Strategy for a Democratic Tunisia. The report presents a new way forward for western engagement with Tunisia that makes clear the country’s priority status in the transatlantic agenda as it moves away from the immediate post-revolutionary period.

Five years after Tunisia’s revolution, democratic and economic reforms have stalled. Following the revolution, the United States, the European Union, and EU member states—namely France, Germany, and the United Kingdom—substantially boosted assistance to Tunisia. But simply increasing support has not proven to be effective.

A joint US-European strategy should recognize that the long-term success of Tunisia’s democracy will depend on the depth of political progress rather than on tightened security measures, the report suggests. Democracy assistance should go beyond support for elections and focus on helping Tunisia build effective democratic institutions of government. In this arena, Western donors should do the following:

  • Foster Tunisia’s engagement in the global community of democracies, including in multilateral institutions, as a way to solidify the country’s democratic gains and raise its international visibility as a new democracy.
  • Be more vigilant and outspoken about human rights abuses in Tunisia by using both public and private diplomacy to urge Tunisia to respect its domestic and international human rights obligations.
  • Encourage donors to focus their efforts on areas of comparative advantage and relative competencies in order to maximize the efficiency of assistance.
  • Focus on institutions where assistance has the potential to address crucial policy issues and demonstrate to Tunisians that democracy can improve their lives. As part of this, donors should connect Tunisians with experts in other recently democratized countries who have overcome similar institution-building challenges.
  • Undertake a joint assessment of their support to civil society to develop a more effective way forward.

In order to better ensure the effectiveness of their assistance the United States and Europe should:

  • Establish a high-level transatlantic framework for regular discussions on Tunisia that will be managed by Western capitals in order to elevate Tunisia as a policy priority. The task force should coordinate with the government in Tunis and other local stakeholders to monitor progress and adjust priorities.

The West must match its strong rhetorical support for Tunisia’s future with an increase in targeted, coordinated assistance that makes clear Tunisia’s priority status, the authors continue:

While the ultimate responsibility for reform lies with Tunisia, the international community, and especially the United States and Europe, can play a much more effective role in helping the country achieve greater stability and democracy. Not to do so would be a waste of an opportunity because a democratic Tunisia is critical to advancing the West’s goal of a more stable and moderate Middle East. But without action soon, Tunisia may succumb to the many challenges it faces. Time is running out. RTWT

June 7, 2016 – 9:00 am

Atlantic Council, 1030 15th Street NW
Washington, DC

A Transatlantic Strategy for a Democratic Tunisia

Remarks by:
Paige Alexander
Assistant Administrator, Bureau for the Middle East
US Agency for International Development

Nicholas Westcott
Managing Director, Middle East and North Africa
European External Action Service

Followed by a discussion with:
Andrea Gamba
International Monetary Fund

Amy Hawthorne
Deputy Director for Research 
Project on Middle East Democracy [a partner of the National Endowment for Democracy]

Karim Mezran
Senior Fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East
Atlantic Council

Introduced and Moderated by:

Frances G. Burwell
Vice President, European Union and Special Initiatives
Atlantic Council


On Twitter? Follow @ACMideast and use #ACTunisia

This event is open to press and on the record.

VISITING THE COUNCIL: Metro and parking info 

This event is generously supported by the European Union, as part of a two-year initiative supported by the EU Delegation in Washington, DC and implemented by the Atlantic Council to advance transatlantic cooperation in supporting political and economic reform in the Arab world.

Paige Alexander leads the Bureau for the Middle East at the US Agency for International Development, where she oversees the efforts of USAID missions and development programs in countries across the region. Nicholas Westcott manages the Middle East and North Africa at the European External Action Service. Andrea Gamba focuses on Tunisia at the International Monetary Fund. Amy Hawthorne directs research at the Project on Middle East Democracy and focuses on Arab political reform and democracy promotion. Karim Mezran specializes in North African affairs at the Atlantic Council, specifically Tunisia and Libya. Frances G. Burwell concentrates on the European Union, US-EU relations, and a range of transatlantic economic, political, and defense issue at the Atlantic Council.


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