The Biden administration’s decision to slash economic and humanitarian aid to Tunisia while maintaining military support was criticized during a recent Senate hearing.
The State Department’s top official for North Africa, Joshua Harris, defended the budget cuts, but Democratic Senator Chris Murphy argued that the move contradicts the administration’s commitment to promoting democracy and human rights.
Tunisia’s democracy is under threat due to an authoritarian crackdown by its president, Kais Saied. The Biden administration has oscillated between engaging and scolding Saied, but military aid remains constant. Recently, Tunisia’s opposition party leader was arrested. Rached Ghannouchi, a leading opponent of Tunisian President Kais Saied, has been detained, according to his political party Ennahdha. The 81-year-old Ghannouchi, the Tunisia’s opposition party chief, was arrested at his home in Tunis and taken to an undisclosed location. Ennahdha was the largest in parliament before it was dissolved by Saied in July 2021.
Saied seized most powers in 2021, shutting down parliament, appointing a new government, and ruling by decree, moves he said were necessary to end years of chaos and rampant corruption among the political elite. He has blamed Tunisia’s economic problems on corruption and rejected what he sees as foreign interference.
The US sees Tunisia’s military as an ally in a region experiencing increasing competition with Russia and China.