Tunisia needs help sustaining Arab Spring’s only success


tunisia essebsiThe test facing Beji Caid Essebsi (left), 88, who swept to victory in December in Tunisia’s first free and fair presidential election, might daunt a leader of any generation: to consolidate democratic gains, transform the economy and sustain the lone success story of the Arab Spring uprisings, the New York Times reports:

For the young revolutionaries who brought down Tunisia’s longtime dictator four years ago, Mr. Essebsi represents a return of the old government and old ways of doing things. Yet Bejbouj, as his supporters affectionately called him, has won the trust of many Tunisians with his call for a strong state and a modern secular society, in contrast with two chaotic years of rule by Ennahda, the Islamist party that won power after the uprising…..

Still recovering from 60 years of dictatorship, Tunisian society remains deeply fractured. Politically, secularists, including vocal leftists and Arab nationalists, contend with Islamists, who won 27 percent of the vote in 2014. Socially, a rich elite living in the coastal cities is divided from the poor, underdeveloped inland regions where the revolution began and where popular unrest continues.

When Essebsi is in Washington this week to meet with U.S. president Barack Obama, the two leaders must use the opportunity to invigorate a dialogue on mutual interests and explore assistance and coordination programs, say analysts Karim Mezran and Lara Talverdian. Given Tunisia’s promise of political pluralism in an otherwise volatile neighborhood, it is in everyone’s interest to aim for a comprehensive, strategic partnership, they write for the National Interest:

tunisia transitionTunisia boasts an educated middle class and a robust civil society. In a recent trip to Tunis, we saw citizens engaged in the issues that matter most to them: from transparency to local governance to entrepreneurship and innovation. They openly and thoughtfully assess their country’s political situation and reflect on its potential and challenges in reaching it. This civic engagement is a natural, intrinsic and healthy mechanism that provides a check on any potential abuse of power as Tunisia consolidates its democracy through institutions.

Talks on May 21 will focus on efforts to spur economic growth and counter terrorism in a nation that the United States considers the Arab Spring’s only clear success story, Julian Pecquet reports for Al-Monitor:

Tunisia’s not in the clear yet, however, as evidenced by the deadly attack on the Bardo Museum in March and reports that thousands of young Tunisians have joined the Islamic State. Tunisia is also taking a lead diplomatic role in the civil war in neighboring Libya. And Essebsi is also expected to press US President Barack Obama to help restart peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians (Tunisia hosted the PLO in the 1980s).

tunisia flagsThe State Department has vowed to triple military assistance to Tunisia this year, and Congress has also taken a keen interest in the country. The House passed an amendment to its annual defense bill last week calling cooperation with Tunis a “national security priority,” and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee spearheaded a letter to Obama urging him to establish a multiyear aid program for Tunisia.

Please join the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy for his Essebsi’s public address, scheduled for the day before he meets President Barack Obama at the White House. And take part in the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #EssebsiUSIP.

Click here to Register for the event:

CSID is a Washington DC-based think tank and advocacy non-profit organization 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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