The Mideastwire Blog

Excerpts from the Arab and Iranian Media & Analysis of US Policy in the Region

Another Plan to Save Tunisia Flounders On Same Core Problem: How Can One Expect Reform in the Face of Powerful Parallel State Structure?

The latest think tank attempt to “save Tunisia” came out today, this time from the Atlantic Council. It is here:

My response in May to these approaches is here:

Unfortunately, the Atlantic Council report suffers from the same problems as bedevil the ICG and Carnegie attempts (please note I only breezed through the report once so this is very provisional criticism!).

This time, the tank calls for more grants (and less emphasis on loans), which sounds great. They do call for some low impact, but sensible changes like having the EU and US “show the flag” more for Tunisia’s democracy and having the two sides coordinate better.  As expected, the central idea is conditionality – “we” need to be tougher about having “them” (the Tunisians) reform, especially when it comes to liberalizing the economy. Pressure them more to reform and then we can push through more cash, weapons and support.

The central problem remains: how can anyone expect weak democrats in Tunisia to actually extract concessions and enact reforms from the far more powerful parallel state on their own? This report once again provides no insight into the extent of this core problem and offers no pathways for everyone to escape and move forward.

A NEW PROBLEM: The Atlantic Council report suffers from a particular flaw related to its thorough emphasis on “liberalizing” the Tunisian economy. There is, unfortunately, little in the way of details or analysis of exactly what “opening up” the Tunisian economy would mean. What about the negative effects that many raise? Shoot – even the IMF  now says that “neo-liberalism” (its term ) is failing:

It’s easy to say the main reform needed is “liberalizing” the economy, but for such emphasis on this one idea, Atlantic provides a paucity of economic analysis much less socio-political understanding, context and risks.

More importantly, because there is such an under-appreciation of the power of the parallel state in Tunisia, the authors also fail to see how a liberalazation of the economy might in fact lead to an even more oligarchical structure. This of, course, has been the pathway of many other countries in the last 30 years in similar (or better!) situations.

Indeed, Liberalazation may actually increase the risks of further capital and wealth concentration, with the resultant destabilization risks. No matter what one’s ideological bias may be in these regards, any study that calls for such measures must undertake a serious analysis of the risks involved, especially the central risk that “opening up” Tunisia’s economy may actually – at this stage at least, in the absence of structural remedies for mitigating the parallel state – make the situation even less stable and more oligarchical.

FINAL POINT: five years on there is still no comprehensive study of the Ministry of Interior (Yezid’s admirable paper is a comparative one and doesn’t go deep enough), how it operates in concert with various oligarchs and mafias, who operates and influences its activities and how precisely this holds back both security sector reform and economic reform.



Written by nickbiddlenoe

June 1, 2016 at 11:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

%d bloggers like this: