By Advocacy Department
9/1/22 Tunisia (International Christian Concern) – Earlier last week, a U.S. congressional delegation paid a visit to Tunisia’s President Kais Saied at his presidential palace in Carthage, Tunisia. The delegation was comprised of U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Rob Portman (R-OH), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Representatives Dave Joyce (R-OH), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), and David Price (D-NC). The delegation’s visit comes just weeks after Tunisian voters passed a national referendum approving a new constitution which severely expanded the powers of the President, despite a questionably low voter turnout rate of only 30.5%.
Several members of the delegation released a statement, stating that “Many Tunisians have expressed concerns with President Saied’s dramatic efforts to reform the constitution, including by replacing many judges and suspending the parliament.” The delegation raised these issues with President Saied, reminding him of how Tunisia “…inspired the world in 2011, when widespread peaceful protests led to the fall of Ben Ali’s regime, ending decades of authoritarian rule and launching a new era of freedom and democracy. Now, that democracy is at a critical turning point.” The Senators and Representatives encouraged President Saied to preserve Tunisia’s democracy, by maintaining one that includes a “…responsive, transparent, and accountable democratic government that respects human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
While Tunisians have experienced decades of tumultuous political reign, some were hopeful that when President Saied assumed office in October 2019, that his experience as a law professor and his promise to advance women’s rights and combat endemic corruption would strengthen Tunisia’s democracy and improve the country’s human rights conditions. However, it appears that through emergency powers “justified” by the COVID-19 pandemic, President Saied continues to focus on a political strategy in which his power and position continue to increase.
Furthermore, the human rights situation, especially for Christians and religious minorities, continues to draw concerns as increasing reports of interfamilial and communal violence against religious communities occur without reparation. Christians who convert from Islam face threats of mob violence and are routinely harassed by their family members – even up to the point of physical abuse and death. Christians also face discrimination in the public sector, such as through employment or educational opportunities, and are often treated as “second-class citizens.”
Thus, it remains critical for U.S. authorities to continue working with the Tunisian government to promote a democratic society that protects the fundamental freedoms of all people. In fact, earlier this week, the United States sent Barbara Leaf, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs, to meet with President Saied and do just that. Let’s just hope our efforts are enough before it’s too late.
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