President Kais Saïed needs to face “real costs to democratic backsliding” in the increasingly authoritarian Tunisia, according to nearly two dozen former U.S. diplomats and academic experts calling for—among other things—economic sanctions and a hold on a controversial US$1.9 billion International Monetary Fund loan.
“The U.S. should immediately suspend all U.S. assistance to the Tunisian government, as it is legally bound to do after both military coups or civilian coups in which the military plays a decisive role. This has happened in Tunisia when the army shuttered the democratically-elected parliament,” said the letter, referring to Saïed’s March 2022 shutdown.
“The U.S. should impose Magnitsky sanctions on Saïed and his enablers, including the ministers of interior, defense, and justice, and not provide any funds, training, or equipment to these ministries while they persecute journalists, activists, and dissidents,” the letter added.
Saïed was elected as a reformer in 2019 who promised to protect Tunisia’s evolving democracy. But he subsequently consolidated power in a series of moves that included a new constitution adopted in July 2022. The last two years have seen the arrest of opposition political leaders, including Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi, and mounting concern from the international community.
“Some fear undue pressure from Washington could drive Tunisia into the arms of China. Such concerns are misplaced, given Beijing’s own constraints at present as well as the historic alignment of Tunisian state institutions with the West,” the letter said. “Moreover, even with support from China, Tunisia will still need an IMF loan and U.S. assistance for its economy to recover and attract private investment. ”
Among the signatories are Jake Walles, a former U.S. ambassador to Tunisia, and Jeffrey Feltman, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. Also signing the letter were Stephanie T. Williams, former United Nations Senior Advisor on Libya, and Elliot Abrams, former U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor.