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Research Report


Frances G. Burwell
Amy Hawthorne
Karim Mezran
Elissa Miller
Copyright Date: Jun. 1, 2016
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 33
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 3-4)

    Tunisia, the only positive story to emerge from the 2011 “Arab Spring” uprisings, could become the first consolidated democracy in the Arab world. This outcome would powerfully advance the West’s long-term hopes for a more stable, moderate Middle East. The United States and Europe should make a successful democratic transition in Tunisia a much higher priority on the transatlantic agenda and forge a joint strategy to advance this goal.

    Five years after Tunisia’s pro-democracy revolution, the democratic transition is shaky and the public mood is darkening. The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and other radical groups have appeal...

  2. (pp. 5-6)

    Forging a joint strategy does not mean aligning every European and US initiative in Tunisia, conducting all aid programs together, or constantly coordinating diplomatic messaging. The United States and its European partners have very different histories and styles of engagement in Tunisia, and in some arenas, distinct interests. What is possible, and needed, is an agreement on a few crucial overarching shared priorities and a joint diplomatic and aid strategy to pursue them.

    This new transatlantic strategy for Tunisia as it enters a make-or-break phase for democratic consolidation would have four planks:

    First, the United States and Europe should increase...

  3. (pp. 7-9)

    In the five years since nationwide citizen protests led to the ouster of autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and ended six decades of authoritarian rule, Tunisia has made genuine democratic gains against a backdrop of domestic and regional turmoil. Tunisia has held three free elections. The major opposition party, the Islamist Al-Nahda movement that was ruthlessly repressed under the Ben Ali regime, has rotated into and out of power peacefully. Tunisia wrote a new democratic constitution through a highly consensual and inclusive process, and civil society organizations and other citizen initiatives have flourished in the more open environment....

  4. (pp. 10-16)

    The United States and Europe, longtime backers of Ben Ali caught off guard by the uprising, quickly pivoted in January 2011 to become enthusiastic champions of the democratization process. They showered Tunisia with praise and offered more aid—although nowhere near as much as Tunisians had hoped for. US and European attention has waxed and waned since then, but since 2015 there has been a clear uptick in interest. The successful 2014 elections and the formation in February 2015 of a new coalition government bolstered transatlantic optimism and spurred a flurry of high-level visits to build ties with the new...

  5. (pp. 17-25)

    Despite their shortcomings, the approaches of the EU, key member states, and the United States made sense during the early years of Tunisia’s transition. However, they have not adjusted their strategies to the current, more complicated phase, in which revolutionary optimism has long since evaporated, Tunisian officials’ reform ambitions seem lackluster, and the path ahead is filled with painful economic reforms and difficult political steps.

    To some extent, this lack of shift in strategy is understandable. Addressing the situation in Tunisia, which is far less urgent than the Syrian civil war and the refugee crisis, Iraq’s ongoing turmoil, or even...

  6. (pp. 26-26)

    Tunisia has made great strides towards democracy since 2011. But many of the country’s challenges remain unaddressed and numerous economic, security, and political threats could erode the progress made so far. While much has been achieved in terms of political reform, economic disparities still persist between the wealthy elite and most Tunisians, and marginalization of the interior continues. Youth unemployment remains high and a constant possible trigger of unrest. Meanwhile, the deterioration of the security environment has exacerbated difficult economic conditions, amid flows of irregular migration and attacks from ISIS and other violent groups.

    Tunisia must press ahead with economic...