As Tunisia risks losing its democracy, the US takes a ‘wait and see’ approach

As Tunisia risks losing its democracy, the US is expressing concern about the country’s stability and political institutions but not taking any specific actions yet. It all depends on how things evolve in the coming days, writes Brooke Anderson.

Over the weekend, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with Tunisian President Kais Saied to express his support for the Tunisian people, their rights, institutions and rule of law, as well as the importance of forming a new government and stabilising the economy.

This followed a statement by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken Thursday in which Saied assured him that Tunisia is committed to democracy.

These concerns were in response to Saied’s suspension of parliament for 30 days, leading to accusations among many – including the largest party in the government – of him staging a coup.

But while some progressive lawmakers led by Ilhan Omar in Washington called for rethinking aid to Tunisia until democracy is fully restored, the US seems to be taking a cautious approach so far.

Tunisia is not considered a major US ally in the region, though under Obama in 2015 it acquired non-NATO ally status, conferring additional trade and security benefits. What the US will do next will depend on Tunisia’s internal politics and the reaction of its civil society that helped lay the democratic foundations in Tunisia.

“We’re about to find out if civil society will unify and put pressure on the president to organise elections,” Lindsay Benstead, assistant professor of political science at Portland State University, told The New Arab.

“It remains to be seen what will happen. There’s definitely a risk that they will not quickly come out of this.”

Erosion of democracy

To many, Kais Saeid’s power play has not come as a surprise.

Polls over the past ten years have shown a decline in the number of citizens who perceive Tunisia as a democracy, as its transition to free elections has come with rising crime, unemployment and instability. Though the country might have been heading in that direction prior to the uprising, there was likely a high expectation that democracy would lead to an improved standard of living.

According to a recent report by Arab Barometer, a survey service at Princeton, Tunisians continue to support democracy as a form of government. However, their government’s lack of social safety net and services makes them see it as undemocratic.

Right now, poverty – a key reason for the uprising that ousted Ben Ali – is a major factor that has paved the wayand created pretexts for the power grab by the president, which risks taking Tunisia back into some form of authoritarianism…

Read full article at The New Arab