50 Organizations from faith, anti-war, and progressive communities urge President Biden to suspend military assistance until Tunisia is on a path to democracy
WASHINGTON – Today, 50 organizations including Democracy for the Arab World Now, Win Without War, Tunisian United Network, and Common Defense sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling on the Biden administration to suspend military assistance until Tunisia is on a path to democracy.
The letter states "At a time of existential threats to democracy around the world, American officials should be alarmed at the assault on Tunisia's democratic institutions. The Biden administration can be doing far more to signal to President Saied that international recognition and aid will be conditioned on democratic behavior."
"The time for U.S. government action on Tunisia is now," said Raed McCracken Jarrar, Advocacy Director at Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN). "President Saied's power grab is nothing short of a coup. The Biden Administration should immediately suspend U.S. military assistance until Tunisia is back on the path to democracy," said Yasmine Taeb, Human Rights Lawyer and Progressive Strategist.
"At a time when personalized regimes are wreaking havoc globally, the U.S. cannot stand idly by as a would-be dictator seeks to end Tunisia's democracy and curtail the rights of its people," said Eric Eikenberry, Government Relations Director for Win Without War. "We urge the Biden administration to bring real pressure to bear on President Saied and live up to its rhetoric of protecting democracy around the world."
"For the past nine months Kais Saied has proceeded to dismantle constitutional and democratic institutions in defiance of the international community's calls for a return to democratic norms," said Mongi Dhaouadi, President of the Tunisian United Network. "It is past time for the Administration and Congressional leaders to send a clear message to Saied that if he continues down this destructive path, he will no longer receive support from the United States."
The letter and the full list of signers can be accessed here, and are also included below.
April 26, 2022
The Honorable Antony J. Blinken
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20520
Dear Secretary Blinken,
We write to express our deep concern over the failure of the Tunisian government's return to constitutional order as a result of President Kais Saied's imposition of a manufactured constitutional crisis. The U.S. and its allies have ample leverage to pressure the Saied government to restore democratic order in Tunisia including calling for an immediate re-opening of the parliament, return to constitutional order and establishment of a constitutional court consistent with the Tunisian constitution.
The Arab Spring came to life in Tunisia when street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi engaged in self-immolation on December 17, 2010, to protest an authoritarian regime. Tunisians have made hard-won gains over the subsequent decade to establish a long-sought democracy, even as other post-Arab Spring states backslid into a dictatorial rule or descended into civil war. But now Tunisia's delicate democratic experiment is being rapidly reversed after a blatant power grab by its autocratic president Kais Saied since July 25, 2021. Last month, thousands of Tunisians took to the streets to protest against President Saied's power grab.
We continue to support the Tunisian people in their quest for better democratic outcomes and hope that U.S. assistance will continue to flow to support Tunisia's return to democracy. Tunisia's democratic restoration will in fact be a critical test for the whole Middle East and North Africa region, as Tunisia stood to become a model for inclusive democratic governance by bringing together a wide array of political parties, including Islamic parties such as Ennahda, under a constitution.
Senior Biden administration officials have made repeated visits to Tunis to meet with President Saied and consistently called for a return to constitutional order and a return to the rule of law. However, these brief visits have appeared to have little to no effect on President Saied. President Saied's lack of responsiveness to domestic and international calls for action have been incredibly troubling.
President Saied originally claimed that his anti-democratic usurpation of power would only last for 30 days. But he announced in August 2021 an "indefinite extension" of this "exceptional period," giving himself near total power in clear violation of the laws and constitution of Tunisia. In September 2021, Saied formally suspended the constitution, announcing that there was "no going back." He has noted that the parliament will not be reopened and has relied on the military, traditionally a non-political force in Tunisia, and certain police units to prop up his rule.
At a time of existential threats to democracy around the world, American officials should be alarmed at the assault on Tunisia's democratic institutions. The Biden administration can be doing far more to signal to President Saied that international recognition and aid will be conditioned on democratic behavior. U.S. law prohibits foreign assistance to any country "whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d'état or decree" or through "a coup d'état or decree in which the military plays a decisive role." The Biden administration has so far failed to correctly characterize Saied's power grab as a coup. And the administration needs to recognize the stakes of Tunisia's march away from democracy and match its rhetoric on safeguarding democracies with action on Tunisia.
We call on the Biden administration to
Suspend U.S. military assistance until Tunisia is on a path towards democracy.
Work with allies to suspend all non-essential aid, including, immediately, the nearly $500 million Millennium Challenge Corporation compact that requires Tunisia to meet democratic thresholds, until this same condition is met.
Refrain from any high-level meetings with Saied's government other than to press for the return to democratic order.
Investigate whether President Saied's use of military prosecutors and tribunals and of security forces, in general, violate the Arms Export Control Act or the Foreign Assistance Act, including the Leahy Law.
The current situation in Tunisia risks descending into broader civil unrest and instability. We value the Administration's work to support the restoration of democratic principles in Tunisia; however, the lack of progress over the last several months calls for the suspension of U.S. military assistance until Tunisia is on a path toward democracy.
American Muslim Democratic Caucus
American Muslims for Palestine
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)
Libyan American Alliance
Muslim Public Affairs Council
National Interest Foundation
Our Revolution Alexandria
Our Revolution South Central Virginia
Progressive Democrats of America
Progressives for Democracy in America Florida
Rethinking Foreign Policy
Taeb Strategies LLC
Tree of Life Educational Fund
Tunisian United Network
US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO)
American Muslim Alliance (AMA)
Baitulmaal for Relief and Development
Burmese Rohingya Association of North America (BRANA)
Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC)
Dar Alhijrah Islamic Center
Downtown Islamic Center – Chicago (DIC)
International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT)
Islamic Association of North America (IANA)
Islamic Center of Chicago Western Suburbs (ICW)
Islamic Center of Detroit (ICD)
Islamic Community Center of Illinois (ICCI)
Islamic Center of Naperville (ICN)
Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA)
Islamic Leadership Council of New York
Islamic Shura Council of Southern California (ISCSC)
Mercy Without Limits (MWL)
Mosque Foundation (MF)
The Mosque Cares (Ministry of Imam W. D. Mohammed)
Muslim American Society (MAS)
Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA)
Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA)
Muslim Forum of the Pacific Northwest (MFPNW)
New York Majlis Ashura
North American Imams Federation (NAIF)
Together We Serve (TWS)
United Muslim Relief (UMR)
United Hands Relief (UHR)
WESPAC Foundation, Inc.
Women's Action for New Directions (WAND)
Win Without War
cc: Chairwoman Rosa L. DeLauro, Committee on Appropriations, U.S. House of Representatives
Ranking Member Kay Granger, Committee on Appropriations, U.S. House of Representatives
Chairwoman Barbara Lee, Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, U.S. House of Representatives
Ranking Member Hal Rogers, Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, U.S. House of Representatives