MCC in Tunisia

September 29, 2011 By Jane Kaminski

With the upheavals of the Arab Spring deepening uncertainty and instability in the Middle East, United States programs in that region play an important role in strengthening civil society and fostering a better, safer world.  In the most recent example of American programming that will help these countries help themselves, today, the Millenium Challenge Corporation announced Tunisia is eligible for a Threshold Agreement, which MCC CEO Daniel Yohannes described as a “policy reform-based program to identify and address binding constraints to economic growth.” This grant will provide not just economic and infrastructural support, but also will demonstrate the value the United States places on democracy, building partnerships, and transparent governance.  As Secretary Clinton said during her speech with Tunisia’s Foreign Minister last week, “We proudly stand with Tunisia at this critical time in your history, and do all we can to assist you in realizing a future of peace, progress, and opportunity.”

The Arab Spring began in Tunisia with the self-immolation of a desperate young man without opportunities to advance in his society.  The tragedy of his death and story ignited protests across the country and then region, where citizens took to the streets demanded democracy, freedom of speech, and opportunity.  Tunisia’s government soon fell, and now the first set of elections to reform a parliament are scheduled for October 23rd.

At this critical time, the MCC steps in to provide valuable stability to a country that has faced serious turmoil.  MCC grants target countries with lower incomes where added infrastructural development of the economies and governments has the potential to create middle income, emerging markets. The MCC sets rigorous standards for eligibility to receive compacts or threshold agreements. Tunisia is an interesting Threshold Agreement candidate country because although its income was generally considered too high to be eligible, the fall out of the revolution demonstrated the notable lack of economic growth opportunities and transparent governance.  However, this is a moment where the United States has the opportunity to be a major force in guiding a country that is rebuilding after the overthrow of an oppressive dictator.  Ambassador Mark Green, a member of the Board of Directors for the MCC, described the significance of the Threshold Agreement, saying “Moments like the Arab Spring where the United States can help countries build more open societies and markets are rare.  An MCC Threshold program in Tunisia can be a critical tool for ensuring U.S. engagement in the region.”

This Threshold Agreement demonstrates the importance of using all the tools of U.S. foreign policy.  In this strategically significant country, the United States military does not have a major role in supporting the rehabilitation of the state.  However, it is in our  security interest for a strong, democratic governing body to take root and help revitalize the country and indeed, the region.  The MCC’s Threshold Agreement’s structure is specifically designed to cultivate stronger, more transparent and democratic governance.  It will help strengthen the weakest parts of Tunisia’s society, its government and economy, which caused the revolution, and draw the young leaders of the revolution into the democratic process.