Ilhan Omar: halt Tunisia security aid if 'coup' continues

Ilhan Omar calls for halt to Tunisia security aid and end to Saudi blockade of Yemen
3 min read
28 July, 2021
Ilhan Omar attended a classified briefing in the White House about human rights, Saudi Arabia's actions in Yemen and the unfolding crisis in Tunisia.
Ilhan Omar is having a meeting about Saudi Arabia's actions in Yemen [Getty]

US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar on Tuesday urged Washington to halt aid to Tunisia after this week's "coup" and end its support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen during a classified briefing at the White House.

The Somali-American Congresswoman will introduce a bill to make it illegal for the US to arm countries which are committing human rights abuses. If passed, it could impact on weapons' sales to parties involved in the Yemen war, including Saudi Arabia.

Omar tweeted: "Saudi blockade of Yemen's major airport and seaport is causing [a] humanitarian crisis and must be lifted."

The Muslim politician continued: "I will be introducing a bill today to make it illegal for the US to continue to arm human rights abusers."

There have been repeated calls by US lawmakers for the Biden administration to pressure Saudi Arabia to lift restrictions on imports to Yemen, which is currently experiencing "the world's worst humanitarian crisis", according to the UN.

"Since 2015, the restrictions imposed by the coalition have critically exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in Yemen," members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote in a letter to Antony Blinken earlier this year.

"The interference, delay, and outright blocking of commercial goods and humanitarian assistance shipped to Yemen's ports is a principal cause of price inflation, food insecurity, economic collapse, and the failure of public services in Yemen," their letter added.

Tunisia protests and government crackdown

Omar also urged the US government to halt military aid to Tunisia following President Kais Saied's power grab on Sunday.

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"If we believe in democracy and human rights, we should be loudly decrying the current assault on democracy in Tunisia -the heart of the Arab Spring," Omar tweeted.

"If Tunisia's president does not reverse course, we should suspend all security aid, as is required by law."

Under domestic law, the US is obligated to cut off direct assistance to governments that came to power by overthrowing elected leaders. Many analysts have described Saied's sacking of the prime minister and dissolving of parliament as a coup.

The law has occasionally led the State Department to go through bureaucratic contortions when it does not want to cut military aid to regional allies, as happened when Egypt's then defence minister now president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi overthrew an elected Islamist government in 2013.

Washington on Monday voiced alarm over Saied's sacking of Tunisia's government and called for the country - known as the "birthplace" of the Arab Spring - to adhere to "democratic principles".

"We're concerned about the developments in Tunisia," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

"We are in touch at a senior level," she said. "We urge calm and support Tunisian efforts to move forward in line with democratic principles."

Tunisia had often been cited as the greatest success story of the Arab Spring, the tumult sparked across the region after Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate who could only find work as a fruit vendor, self-immolated in December 2010.

Saied on Sunday dismissed the prime minister and ordered the parliament shut for 30 days following street protests over the government's handling of the Covid pandemic.