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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Political Transition in Tunisia


Alexis Arieff
Analyst in African Affairs

The departure of longtime President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, in the face of massive anti-government protests, was greeted with euphoria within Tunisia and sparked opposition and reform movements across the region. Yet despite significant accomplishments since that time, Tunisians today face a wide range of challenges, including economic hardship, disputes over reform priorities, labor unrest, tensions between the privileged coastal region and relatively impoverished interior, and the security implications of events in neighboring Libya. Domestic tensions between Islamists and secularists have also burgeoned. Elections held in October 2011 to select a National Constituent Assembly provided momentum to a transition process that has at times appeared slow and unwieldy. The Assembly is expected to draft a new constitution ahead of new elections currently slated for early 2013. Al Nahda (alt: Ennahda/An- Nahda), a moderate Islamist party, won 41% of the seats in the October vote, and is ruling in a coalition with two secular parties. The coalition is subject to internal frictions due to the three parties’ divergent histories and policy preferences.

Tunisia’s transition raises a wide range of questions for the future of the country and the region. These pertain to the struggle between reformists and entrenched forces carried over from the former regime; the potential shape of the new political system; the role and influence of Islamism in the government and society; the question of how to transform the formerly repressive security services; and the difficult diplomatic balance—for the United States and other actors—of encouraging greater democratic openness while not undermining other foreign policy priorities. Tunisia exhibits a number of unique attributes within the region: a relatively small territory, a sizable and well educated middle class, and a long history of encouraging women’s socioeconomic freedoms. Some policymakers view these factors as advantageous, and describe Tunisia as a potential “test case” for democratic transitions in the region. Tunisia’s example may nonetheless be less influential than larger or more central states such as Egypt and Syria.

Congress authorizes and appropriates foreign assistance funding and oversees U.S. foreign policy toward Tunisia and the wider region. The Obama Administration has indicated a desire to deepen ties with Tunisia, including by encouraging increased trade and investment, and U.S. bilateral aid has significantly expanded to assist the country with its transition. As part of this transition support, the State Department is providing Tunisia with a $100 million cash transfer to help cover its debt payments. Prior to 2011, U.S.-Tunisian relations were highly focused on military assistance and counterterrorism. International financial institutions, which receive significant U.S. funding, have also pledged aid for Tunisia. Some Members of Congress argue that additional aid should be allocated for democracy promotion and economic recovery in Tunisia, while others contend that budgetary cuts take precedence over new aid programs, or that economic stabilization may be best addressed by the private sector or by other donors.

P.L. 112-74, the FY2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act, contains provisions relevant to Tunisia. Relevant pending legislation includes H.Res. 527 (Murphy); S.Res. 316 (Lieberman); S. 1388 (Kerry); and S. 3241 and H.R. 5857, draft versions of the FY2013 Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act. See also CRS Report R42153, U.S. Trade and Investment in the Middle East and North Africa: Overview and Issues for Congress, coordinated by Rebecca M. Nelson; and CRS Report R42393, Change in the Middle East: Implications for U.S. Policy, coordinated by Christopher M. Blanchard.



Date of Report: June 18, 2012
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: RS21666
Price: $29.95

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Morocco: Current Issues


Alexis Arieff
Analyst in African Affairs

King Mohammed VI retains supreme political power in Morocco, but has taken some liberalizing steps with uncertain effects. In 2011, following popular demonstrations that echoed unrest elsewhere in the region, the king proposed a new constitution that may provide greater independence to the Prime Minister, the legislature, and the judiciary. It was overwhelmingly approved in a public referendum. The moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) is leading the government for the first time after winning a plurality of seats in November 2011 legislative elections. While the party has been legally recognized for two decades, its leaders continue to grapple with their transition from outsider opposition status to the day-to-day responsibilities of running the government amid an economic downturn and responding to vast and divided expectations. The PJD’s campaign promises to crack down on corruption and cronyism may also place it on a collision course with pro-palace elites. Protests have dwindled since their apogee in early 2011, but sporadic demonstrations continue over economic grievances, and some activists continue to call for deeper changes to the political system.

The U.S. government views Morocco as an important ally against terrorism and as a free trade partner. Congress appropriates foreign assistance funding for Morocco for counterterrorism and socioeconomic development, including in support of a five-year, $697.5 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact agreed to in 2007. Congress also reviews and authorizes Moroccan purchases of U.S. defense articles. U.S. officials have expressed support for Morocco’s political reform efforts while reiterating strong support for the monarchy.

Morocco’s approach to countering terrorism involves security measures, economic reforms, education, international cooperation, and control of religious outlets. Morocco experienced devastating terrorist attacks in 2003, and Moroccan nationals have been implicated in attacks and plots overseas. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a regional criminal-terrorist network, has not mounted a successful attack in Morocco. However, individual Moroccans have joined AQIM outside of the country and the group has reportedly attempted to use Moroccan territory as a transit point for regional smuggling operations.

Morocco’s human rights record is uneven. A number of abuses have been documented along with constraints on freedom of expression. At the same time, the 2004 Family Code is a significant initiative that could improve the socioeconomic rights of women if fully implemented. The king has also sought to provide a public record of abuses perpetrated before he ascended the throne in 1999 and to enhance the rights of ethnic Berbers (Amazigh/Imazighen), the original inhabitants of the region. In 2010, questions about religious freedom arose when foreign Christians were expelled for illegal proselytizing, sparking criticism by some Members of Congress.

Morocco’s foreign policy focuses largely on France, Spain, and the United States. The country is currently serving a two-year stint as a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. Relations with Algeria are troubled by the unresolved dispute over the Western Sahara, a territory that Morocco largely occupies and views as an integral part of its national territory. Algeria supports the POLISARIO Front in its quest for the region’s self-determination. Relations between Morocco and Israel are strained, though some 600,000 Moroccan Jews are citizens of Israel. Morocco severed diplomatic ties with Iran in 2009, and was invited to join the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in May 2011. See also CRS Report RS20962, Western Sahara, by Alexis Arieff.



Date of Report: June 20, 2012
Number of Pages: 23
Order Number: RS21579
Price: $29.95

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