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US lawmakers urge aid for Tunisia's civil society as crackdown intensifies

The Biden administration’s proposal to slash economic assistance while largely sustaining military aid to Tunisia has drawn concern in Congress.
Tunisian President Kais Saied meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

WASHINGTON — As democratic norms erode in Tunisia, a bipartisan group of US lawmakers wants to ensure proposed aid cuts don’t undermine the very civil society actors seeking to reverse the North African country’s democratic backslide, according to a letter obtained by Al-Monitor. 

The letter led by Reps. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) and Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), ranking member and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs' Middle East subcommittee, comes as a debate rages in Washington over how to respond to Tunisia’s democratic unraveling nearly two years after President Kais Saied sacked his prime minister, suspended the elected parliament and seized broad executive powers in a stunning power grab that his political rivals called a coup.

Congress hasn’t earmarked funds for the North African country since then, deferring to the Biden administration on the amount of security and economic aid to send Tunisia amid its steady deterioration in human rights. As Al-Monitor first reported in March, the State Department’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2024 sought $14.5 million in US economic support for Tunisia, down from the $45 million requested for this year. 

“The Biden administration has rightfully chosen to send a message of concern to the Tunisian government about democratic backsliding since July 2021 by limiting direct bilateral assistance to government institutions,” the group of 10 lawmakers said in their letter to Reps. Mario Diaz-Balar (R-Fla.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), chair and ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations. 

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