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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tunisia: Recent Developments and Policy Issues

Alexis Arieff
Analyst in African Affairs

On January 14, 2011, Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine ben Ali fled the country after several weeks of increasingly violent protests. The protests initially seemed to stem from discontent related to high unemployment, but eventually spiraled into an unprecedented national challenge to Ben Ali’s authoritarian regime. As of January 15, the speaker of parliament, Fouad Mebazaa, has assumed the role of interim president, in line with constitutional prerogatives. On January 17, a “unity” cabinet was formed, which includes three leaders of officially sanctioned opposition parties. Ruling party figures have nonetheless retained control of key posts, while members of banned Islamist and leftist political movements have not been invited to participate. Tunisian authorities have promised political reforms and elections within 60 days. However, the impact of recent developments is difficult to predict. Violence between protesters, security forces, and unidentified gunmen persisted in urban centers as of January 17. The political shifts of recent weeks have been accompanied by speculation over the views and roles of Tunisia’s security forces, portions of which orchestrated the crackdown on demonstrations while others appear to have influenced Ben Ali’s decision to resign.

Prior to the December-January protests, Tunisia had been seen as a stable, autocratic government since its independence from France in 1956. Ben Ali, who was in power for 23 years, was elected for a fifth term in October 2009 in an election widely seen as flawed and boycotted by leading opposition parties. His Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) party exerted strong control over parliament, state and local governments, and most political activity. The government cultivated strong ties with France and the European Union, its largest trading partner. Tunisia is a non-oilexporting, middle-income country with a growing economy but high unemployment.

The unexpected and rapid upheaval in Tunisia raises a wide range of questions for the future of the country and the region, pertaining to the struggle between entrenched forces loyal to the former regime and an unorganized popular movement without a clear leader; the potential shape of the new political order; the potential future role of Islamist and/or radical movements in the government and society; the role of the military as a political power-broker; and the difficult diplomatic balance—for the United States and other partners—of encouraging greater democratic openness while not undermining other foreign policy priorities. Recent developments also have potential implications for Congress related to the oversight to U.S.-Tunisian bilateral relations and assistance, and to broader questions of U.S. policy toward the Middle East. Many analysts believe the events in Tunisia could affect political stability in other countries in the region with authoritarian-leaning, Western-backed regimes.

Current U.S.-Tunisian relations largely emphasize military cooperation, although Tunisia has pushed for a greater focus on trade. Congress has been supportive of security assistance programs in Tunisia, directing the State Department in FY2009 and FY2010 to allocate levels of Foreign Military Financing (FMF) that surpassed budget requests by the executive branch. According to private sector analysis, the United States is Tunisia’s primary supplier of military equipment. U.S. officials, who grew increasingly critical of the government in the days prior to Ben Ali’s departure, have since called for free and fair elections.



Date of Report: January 18, 2011
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: RS21666
Price: $29.95

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Friday, January 21, 2011

South Africa: Current Issues and U.S. Relations


Lauren Ploch
Analyst in African Affairs

Over fifteen years after the South African majority gained its independence from white minority rule under apartheid, a system of racial segregation, the Republic of South Africa is firmly established as a regional power. With Africa’s largest Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a diverse economy, and a government that has played an active role in promoting regional peace and stability, South Africa is poised to have a substantial impact on the economic and political future of Africa. The country is also playing an increasingly prominent role in the G20 and other international fora. South Africa is twice the size of Texas and has a population of almost 50 million. Its political system is regarded as stable, but South Africa faces serious long-term challenges arising from poverty, unemployment, and AIDS.

The United States government considers South Africa to be one of its strategic partners on the continent, and the two countries commenced a new Strategic Dialogue in 2010, with the encouragement of the U.S. Congress. Bilateral relations are cordial; however, the U.S. and South African administrations have expressed differences with respect to the situations in Zimbabwe and Iran, among other foreign policy issues. South Africa begins a two-year term as a nonpermanent member of the United Nations Security Council in 2011; U.S. officials articulated frustration with the South African government on positions it took during its last term on the Council in 2007-2008.

The African National Congress (ANC), which led the struggle against apartheid, has dominated the political scene since the end of apartheid and continues to enjoy widespread support among the population. The party has suffered internal divisions, though, some of which contributed to the resignation of President Thabo Mbeki in 2008 and the formation of a breakaway party, the Congress of the People (COPE). The ANC fell short of retaining its two-thirds majority in the parliament during the most recent elections, held in April 2009. Jacob Zuma, elected as head of the ANC in late 2007, weathered a series of corruption charges and was chosen by the ANCdominated parliament after the 2009 elections to serve as the country’s newest President.

South Africa has the largest HIV/AIDS population in the world, with almost 6 million people reportedly HIV positive. The Mbeki Administration’s policy on HIV/AIDS was controversial, but the Zuma Administration has made significant commitments to addressing the disease. The country has weathered a series of corruption scandals, and continues to struggle with high crime and unemployment rates. Mounting social tensions related to the competition for jobs, resources, and social services led to an eruption of xenophobic violence against immigrants in 2008; some resentment against foreign workers in the country lingers. South Africa, with its wealth of mineral resources and diverse manufacturing sector, has benefitted from steady economic growth in recent years, but the country weathered a recession in 2009 and economists predict weaker growth prospects for the near future. Job creation remains a major challenge for the government.

In 2010, South Africa successfully hosted the largest event ever held on the African continent, the FIFA World Cup, an international football (soccer) competition. The government and the private sector undertook a wide variety of construction and infrastructure projects in preparation for the event, which was attended by over three million people and drew over 300,000 tourists. South Africa defied many expectations during the event—six new stadiums were finished on time, crime was low, and South Africans introduced the world to a long (and loud) plastic horn known as the vuvuzela. Americans bought more tickets to the event than any other nationality. The games were a point of pride, not only to South Africans, but to many across Africa.



Date of Report: January 4, 2011
Number of Pages: 29
Order Number: RL31697
Price: $29.95

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