Sarah Yerkes

Senior Fellow
Middle East Program
tel 202.939.2203
Sarah Yerkes is a senior fellow in Carnegie’s Middle East Program, where her research focuses on Tunisia’s political, economic, and security developments as well as state-society relations in the Middle East and North Africa.


Ph.D. Georgetown University
M.A.  Harvard University
B.A.  Emory University


Arabic; English; French; Hebrew; Spanish


Sarah Yerkes is a senior fellow in Carnegie’s Middle East Program, where her research focuses on Tunisia’s political, economic, and security developments as well as state-society relations in the Middle East and North Africa.  She has been a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and a Council on Foreign Relations international affairs fellow and has taught in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University and at the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University.

Yerkes is a former member of the State Department’s policy planning staff, where she focused on North Africa. Previously, she was a foreign affairs officer in the State’s Department’s Office of Israel and Palestinian affairs. Yerkes also served as a geopolitical research analyst for the U.S. military’s Joint Staff Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate (J5) at the Pentagon, advising the Joint Staff leadership on foreign policy and national security issues.

  • Op-Ed Georgetown Journal of International Affairs December 2, 2021
    Can the International Community Stop Tunisia’s Authoritarian Regression?

    Tunisian President Kais Saied has slowly and steadily consolidated power into his own hands since his July 25, 2021 self-coup. While the United States and Europe have taken an increasingly critical stance against Saied’s actions, the Tunisian leader has ignored their requests for a return to a constitutional order and an inclusive political process.

  • Op-Ed Times Now October 5, 2021
    China’s Rise in North Africa Won’t Abate Anytime Soon

    The region might be better served from a recommitment by the US and Europe, which might offer palpable inducements of development aid linked to reforms. But with Western governments focused on their own domestic spending plans and Covid-19 recovery, it is more likely that continuing Chinese funds and outreach will further entrench Beijing’s influence in the region for the foreseeable future.

  • Op-Ed Foreign Affairs August 6, 2021
    The Tunisia Model in Crisis

    As the countries around it descended into civil war or regressed into authoritarianism, Tunisia held free and fair national and local elections, adopted a liberal-democratic constitution, and witnessed a peaceful transition of power.

  • Op-Ed National July 28, 2021
    Tunisia Faces a New Future

    Tunisian President Kais Saied dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, who had served less than a year in office. Removing Prime Minister Mechichi from power was only one of several steps President Saied took to consolidate power and address what he saw as an urgent, emergency situation.

  • Op-Ed Foreign Policy July 27, 2021
    The International Community Must Use Its Leverage in Tunisia

    By dismissing the parliament and removing his political rivals from power, Tunisian President Kais Saied has set Tunisia on a path that is likely to end in further instability and potential bloodshed.

  • Op-Ed Euractive July 23, 2021
    Facing Triple Crises, Tunisia is in Trouble

    Tunisia, the Arab world’s only free country according to Freedom House, is mired in three simultaneous crises that have the potential not only to undermine the country’s progress since the 2011 revolution, but also to plunge it into a deep national dysfunction.

  • Libya capital Tripoli skyline view
    United States Institute of Peace February 23, 2021
    A New Strategy for U.S. Engagement in North Africa: A Report of the North Africa Working Group

    The United States should seize the opportunity to prioritize North Africa by working with Europe and through multilateral bodies both to counter Russian and Chinese influence and to support the demands of the people of the region for greater voice and accountability, which will help bring long-term stability there.

  • Op-Ed The Hill February 15, 2021
    To Champion U.S. Values Abroad, Start With North Africa

    President Biden has made clear that democratic values and principles are the foundation of American diplomacy. This represents an important shift away from the foreign policy of the previous four years.

  • Op-Ed World Politics Review February 4, 2021
    Lessons From Tunisia’s Past Crises Can Help Resolve This One

    As Tunisia marked the 10th anniversary of the removal of dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14, people poured into the streets, defying a nationwide COVID-19 lockdown.

  • Op-Ed Arab Center December 1, 2020
    What Can Tunisia Expect From a Biden Administration?

    Like most of its North African neighbors, Tunisia saw little attention from the Trump Administration, compared to other parts of the Middle East such as Egypt, Iran, or Israel.

  • France 24 January 17, 2021
    Tunisia Marks Decade Since Decade Dictator’s Fall

    Tunisia marks ten years since its dictator’s fall from power.

  • Deutsche Welle December 17, 2020
    The Arab Spring: What Went Wrong?

    Ten years ago, a Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire, sparking a revolutionary wave that became known as the Arab Spring. While the protests led to the toppling of longtime dictators in the Middle East, they also foreshadowed a number of civil wars still raging today. So what went wrong?

  • April 22, 2020
    On U.S. Democracy Support in the Middle East
  • France24 October 11, 2019
    On the Tunisian Elections

    Presidential run-off elections are scheduled in Tunisia between Nabil Karoui and Kais Saied.

  • DW News October 4, 2019
    Tunisia Election

    Tunisians go to the polls to elect a new parliament on Sunday and independent candidates could prove key to forming the next government.

  • Pacific Council on International Policy September 23, 2019
    Western Sahara: One of Africa’s Oldest Conflicts

    A conversation about the Western Sahara, one of Africa’s oldest conflicts.

  • Deep Dish on Global Affairs August 1, 2019
    Why Tunisia Is the Epicenter of Arab Democracy

    Tunisia is the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring. Yet the death of its first democratically elected president last week has raised new questions about its future. The outcome matters not just to Tunisians, but also as a test case for democracy across North Africa and the Arab world.

  • Media Line July 30, 2019
    Tunisia Faces Uphill Battle After President’s Death

    Beji Caid Essebsi, the first democratically elected president of Tunisia, died last week at the age of 92. His death triggered renewed concern over the future stability of Tunisia as the nation faces economic and social crises ahead of elections scheduled for later this year.

  • NPR July 29, 2019
    Tunisians To Choose New Leader After First Democratically Elected President Dies

    As Tunisia says goodbye to President Beji Caid Essebsi, its first democratic leader, experts are watching who Tunisians are prepared to elect in the upcoming elections in September.

  • The Lawfare Podcast: The Jerusalem Embassy Opening and Protests in Gaza
    Lawfare Blog May 19, 2018
    The Jerusalem Embassy Opening and Protests in Gaza

    Protests alongside the Gaza strip in reaction to the United States opening its embassy in Jerusalem received harsh response from the Israeli government.

  • Tunisia’s Accelerating Economic Challenges
    July 21, 2020 Live Online
    Tunisia’s Accelerating Economic Challenges

    On June 27, Tunisia opened its land, sea, and air borders for the first time in three months. While the government’s aggressive response to the coronavirus successfully limited the number of cases in Tunisia, the shutdown caused severe economic stress.

  • What Do Tunisians Expect from their New Government?
    January 14, 2020 Washington, DC
    What Do Tunisians Expect from Their New Government?

    As Tunisia marks the ninth anniversary of its revolution, the country faces a new set of challenges.

  • Salafism in the Maghreb
    January 9, 2020 Washington, DC
    Salafism in the Maghreb

    A dynamic region amidst great change, the Maghreb is also home to the conservative, literalist interpretation of Islam known as Salafism, which has emerged as a major social and political force.

  • The Global Challenge of Poltical Polarization
    October 8, 2019 Washington, DC
    The Global Challenge of Political Polarization

    As one part of the global democratic recession, severe political polarization is increasingly afflicting old and new democracies alike, producing the erosion of democratic norms and rising societal anger.

  • Tunisia at a Crossroads
    July 9, 2019 Washington, DC
    Tunisia at a Crossroads

    Tunisia is at a crossroads. The democratic transition has failed to meet the expectations of most citizens, with the government unable to address key challenges facing their country. What comes next?

  • Tunisia’s Political System
    April 30, 2019 Washington, DC
    Tunisia’s Political System

    As Tunisia moves closer to elections, the level of trust people have in the government and the electoral system is at a low point. The country’s political parties must find a way to connect with the public to both win votes and restore faith in Tunisia’s democratic institutions.

  • Religious Authority in the Middle East: Implications for U.S. Policy
    March 19, 2019 Washington, DC 中文
    Religious Authority in the Middle East: Implications for U.S. Policy

    Religious authority is an increasingly influential but poorly understood source of power in governments throughout the Middle East. Who speaks for Islam in the region? How do Islamists and fundamentalists harness and exert religious authority, despite Islam’s largely decentralized power structure?

  • A Conversation With Tunis Mayor Abderrahim
    January 16, 2019 Washington, DC
    A Conversation With Tunis Mayor Abderrahim

    Mayor Abderrahim discussed her role as the first female, democratically-elected mayor of Tunis, and how she is leading the charge to bring positive change to the capital.

  • Tunisia: Justice in Transition
    October 2, 2018 Washington, DC
    Tunisia: Justice in Transition

    The Carnegie Middle East Program will screen the documentary, “Tunisia: Justice in Transition.” The film tracks the trajectory of Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission, established in 2013 to address the crimes of the Ben Ali and Bourguiba regimes.

  • Tunisia
    September 11, 2018 Carnegie Europe
    Tunisia’s Empowerment Through Decentralization

    For decentralization in Tunisia to be successful, the central government, local government, civil society, and international donors must each invest in the process.

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