Community Engagement

Tunisia United Network

3/2/22 - Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT)

Individual: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) – SFRC; Chair, Subcom on Near East, S Asia, Cent Asia, & CT; Subcom on State Dept & USAID Mgmt, Int’l Ops &Bilateral Int’l Dev; Appropriations; Subcom on State, Foreign Ops, & Related Programs

Attended by: Mongi Dhaouadi, Omar Tabuni, Natasha Hryekewicz, & 23+ TUN Members

Staffers in background: Maya Ashwal, Cole Bockenfeld

Place: Zoom

Date: Wednesday, March 2, 2022
Time: 4:30 – 5:15 pm

U.S. foreign assistance to Tunisia U.S.-Tunisia military partnership China’s & Arab Gulf states’ position on Tunisia U.S. response to Saied’s actions post-July 25th
Respectful but terse/brusque Listened to community; did not ask questions
  1. Call for immediate reopening of the existing parliament.
  2. Urge for constitutional revisions to the constitution ONLY; NOT the unconstitutional e-consultation.
  3. Condition all U.S. foreign (economic & military) assistance on a return to democracy, respect of the rule of law, and investigation into the Tunisian military’s role in the coup and after.
  4. Encourage the House Appropriations Committee to adopt the Senate Appropriations’ language included in the FY2022 Senate bill and FY2022 Senate Committee explanatory statement Clarify U.S. position, especially regarding Saied’s rule and that there will be no implementation of MCCTunisia compact without a legitimate vote in a legitimate parliament.
  5. Continue support for pro-democracy civil society groups in Tunisia.
  6. Pass a resolution calling on Saied to stop all military trials of civilians and immediately release all political
  7. prisoners, including former Justice Minister Mr. Bhiri and Mr. Baldi.
Murphy's Position:
  • Believes he is the most fervent supporter of Tunisia’s democracy as evidenced by his September 2021 visit to Tunisia, statements on Tunisia (e.g. recent Feb. statement), & assistance with Washington Post article
  • Frank regarding constraints: (1) U.S. leverage over Saied regime is minimal; (2) fear among Biden administration over Saied’s options for external support, e.g. China, Gulf states, other autocratic leaders
  • Agreed that reconvening parliament is important
  • Does not trust Saied will follow through on promises made to U.S. congressional delegation in Sept. 2021:
    “all signs of autocrat in waiting”
  • Agreed on including the Senate Appropriations language which conditions assistance in the House budget
  • He will task his staffer with researching the allegation re: NGOs/civil society groups
Deliverable/To-Do Items:
  • Provide information on the Tunisian NGOs that have taken anti-democracy, pro-Saied positions and benefit
    from U.S. assistance

TUN Member Questions & Senator Murphy Responses:

  • Response: Murphy has made the case to the Biden administration that democracy needs to be prioritized and that no one will believe us if we continue to put our security interests ahead of the rights of people. There is an active debate in the U.S. administration AND a general lack of interest on this issue in Congress. Many do not know (OR do not care) whether Saied is good or bad for U.S. security interests
  • There definitely exists an element within the Biden White House that thinks that Saied may be able to chart a prosperous path forward (toward progress, anti-corruption). Another question being asked:
    should we take a hard line now? Or should we give Saied more time?
  • Of course [the United States] wants the restoration of parliament and we believe a new constitution must happen through legal channels via a legitimate parliament. However, while the United States has leverage here, it is limited leverage. “We spend hundreds of millions of dollars on aid; not billions.”
  • The U.S. could take a position but it may not be able to change Saied’s mind and, in fact, may push Saied to turn to other external backers (like China, the Gulf states). There are a lot of autocratic actors willing to give money to states teetering between democracy and autocracy.
  • “This is not a case where the U.S. can dictate actions.”
  • I agree that we cannot lend our assistance to a military assisting in the suspension of democracy