Dear President Joe Biden and Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal,
I am writing to you as a Tunisian American to call your attention to the fact that a significant segments of the Tunisian diaspora in the United States, are fearful of the political influence garnered by the Tunisian Ennahda Islamist party over your administration.
We are very concerned by the influence of Ennahda party on your administration’s perception of recent events in Tunisia, and for not holding the Islamist party responsible for the catastrophic economic, financial, and sanitary situation of Tunisia after more than a decade of their rule. A situation that has enticed the Tunisian president, elected with 72% of the votes, to take steps to attempt to put an end to an era of a corrupt political class that turned the new democratic process into a “failed state.” For these reasons, I am writing to you about recent media stories by the Ennahda Party via opinion pieces written by their leader Cheikh Gannouchi and others in several outlets, and the lobbying activities of Washington based think tanks.
I can assure all of you that the media reports on recent events in Tunisia are very biased in favor of the Islamists party Ennahda. These reports fail to point out that the Ennahda leaders have held power since 2011, after the Arab Spring revolution in Tunisia that instituted a democratic system, but have failed on all fronts, and refuse to take responsibility for their actions. Their ten-year-rule was characterized by incompetence and poor governance, and by an increase in insecurity, nepotism, and corruption, as well as by the lack of any coherent vision for the economic development of Tunisia, which was just a decade ago an emerging economy, but is now relegated into a lower-middle income economy.
I must stress that our community of Tunisian American professionals have an intimate knowledge of what has been going on in Tunisia for the last ten years. The ruling Ennahda party has wasted billions of dollars borrowed from the IMF and other institutions without addressing any of the socioeconomic ills that drove the Arab Spring uprisings, rather they have only exacerbated them.
On July 25 — after ten years of failures on all fronts, political turmoil, terrorism, rampant corruption, weak rule of law, high crime, increased violence against women, political assassinations, nepotism, incompetence, national bankruptcy, economic collapse, highest COVID-19 death rate in Africa, healthcare system collapse, and the lack of any vision for the development of the country –Tunisian President Kais Saied decided to put an end to the country’s descent into further political, economic and sanitary turmoil.
The president’s intervention to temporarily freeze the parliament and dismiss the government according to the terms of the constitution, have saved the country and the region from instability, violence and even civil war. This intervention was supported by more than 87% of Tunisians because it is perceived as an attempt to put an end to the rule of a corrupt political class that turned the new hard-fought democratic state in Tunisia into a “mafia state,” with Ennahda’s consent, if not complicity.
We know that the administration is being lobbied by various entities, including some mainstream think tanks in Washington D.C. and other Islamist sympathizers to intervene in Tunisian political affairs on the side of the Islamist party Ennahda. However, given its history and ideology, Ennahda’s continued rule will only bring chaos and instability not only to Tunisia, but the whole region.
We urge you to reach out to others on the political scene in Tunisia, where the majority of Tunisians share America’s ideals of secular republicanism, liberty and equality. We urge you to limit the influence of the Tunisian Islamists and their allies on your future policies toward Tunisia.
Tarek Abichou, Ph.D., P.E. is a Professor of civil engineering at Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL.