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Tunisia’s State of Emergency and International Aid

Just over a week after a terrorist attack on a Tunisian beach, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi declared a state of emergency in Tunisia. The declaration is intended to last no more than 30 days, though it is renewable. The state of emergency gives more rights to Tunisian security forces and political officials, allowing them more leeway in dealing with potential international and domestic terrorist threats.

Continuous threats and an unstable Western border have put the Tunisian economy on the brink of collapse, and Tunisian politicians in a state of panic. The most recent terrorist attack at Sousse, coupled with existing structural issues, have made humanitarian and anti-poverty aid in Tunisia particularly crucial and time-sensitive.

In his address to the nation in which he declared a state of emergency, President Beli Caid Essebsi insisted that economic and social challenges in the interior of the country, supported by extremism and instability elsewhere in North Africa, have created unique security challenges that the nation cannot handle alone. He declared that Tunisia was in “desperate” need of international assistance, both financially and with cooperative counterterrorism measures. Support from the international community—not just in policy, but in real humanitarian aid and crisis relief in the heart of Tunisia— is crucial to promoting the economic prosperity that discourages extremism and radicalism in developing nations.

Tunisia was not immune to the upheaval that spread across the Arab world in 2011, but it was one of the few nations that reacted to the events with real, democratic change. Since a revolt in January 2011, Tunisia has formed a constitution and staged two parliamentary elections. It remains one of the most secular nations in the region. While the nation in many ways progresses toward stability, its moderate government and continued poverty make it a target both for outside terrorists and for home-grown extremism.

Italy was one of the first nations to respond to the attack in Tunisia with a pledge of continued financial support to the Tunisian government and people. Paolo Gentiloni, Italy’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, tweeted: “Italy stands today with Tunisia more than ever. It was forced to declare a state of emergency in order to address the threat of terrorism and will receive more economic cooperation from Italy and greater assistance on the security level.” Meanwhile, the Italian Senate’s Foreign Policy Commission has encouraged multilateral financial support for Tunisia from the European Union.

While international aid in Northern Africa has generally focused on the needs and challenges faced by refugees and asylum-seekers, recent upheavals and violent episodes across the region—including the recent terrorist attack in Tunisia—have prompted many aid organizations to devote more energy and resources to protection and economic security of the citizens of the region. Until economic prosperity can combine with the nation’s real democratic efforts, violence will continue.

– Melissa Pavlik

Sources: BBC, Middle East Monitor, The New York Times, Public Radio International, UNHCR
Photo: BBC