News / Africa

Critics Contend US Should Offer Stronger Support to Tunisians

A torn banner of former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali is seen in the center of Tunis, 16 Jan 2011
A torn banner of former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali is seen in the center of Tunis, 16 Jan 2011

Multimedia

Audio
  • University of San Francisco Middle East expert Stephen Zunes

Cecily Hilleary

It is unprecedented in the Arab world and the seeming answer to a U.S. prayer - youth, rising up against a dictator and toppling the government in the span of a few short weeks. This happened in Tunisia as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in the region to advance political, economic, and social reform across the region. Some critics have been asking why the U.S. did not seize the moment and offer stronger support to the Tunisians?

Stephen Zunes, a professor of politics and chairman of Middle East Studies at the University of San Francisco, says he believes the United States may have missed an opportunity.

VOA's Cecily Hilleary speaks with Stephen Zunes:

Stephen Zunes, professor of Politics and chairman of Middle East Studies at the University of San Francisco
Stephen Zunes, professor of Politics and chairman of Middle East Studies at the University of San Francisco

Zunes: I think the main problem is that there has long been a double standard, under both Republican and Democratic (U.S.) administrations, of looking the other way when the dictatorship happens to be a U.S. ally; that while we gave certain moral support to uprisings such as in Burma and Iran in recent years and even a limited amount of financial support to opposition groups in countries like Serbia and Ukraine.

When it comes to authoritarian regimes that have historically been allied to the United States, such as Tunisia, concern about human rights has tended to take second place to various economic and strategic concerns.  

Hilleary: What is the U.S. rationale here?

Zunes: I think in many ways, it’s classic realpolitik. But in the Middle East, of course, there’s particular concern about radical Islamist groups that have challenged pro-Western regimes. In the case of Tunisia, where the hardline Islamists are probably weaker than in almost any other Arab country, this rationalization seems particular thin.  

Hilleary: So you’re saying that because Tunisia is a secular society, the United States was happy with the status quo. Is it that simple?

Zunes: Not just secular, but of course pro-Western. They had generally cooperated with the United States in the so-called war on terror. They had generally followed the dictates of the International Monetary Fund in terms of structural adjustment and other economic policies, along with a neo-liberal consensus.

And while there were some concerns about the level of corruption and some human rights matters, they were not taken seriously enough to alter generally good relations. In fact, Tunisia was one of only five countries - the others being Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Columbia - that received direct U.S. security assistance through the regular Foreign Appropriations Bill.  

Hilleary: Last week, while she was in Qatar, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Al Arabiya Television that the U.S. would not be taking sides in the escalating Tunisian conflict. Critics accuse the U.S. of being “tone deaf,” of dropping the ball. President Obama came out last week praising what he called the “courage” and “bravery” of the activists in Tunisia.  Was his statement, in your opinion, strong enough?

Zunes: It may be too little, too late in certain ways. But at the same time, what’s significant about this transition in U.S. policy just in the past week, is there’s long been a sense of fatalism in the Arab world - that they are simply victims of outside forces.

And the shift in U.S. policy from supporting the Tunisian dictatorship to supporting the pro-Democracy forces, I think it sends an important message: That rather than Washington’s policies controlling events impacting the Arab street, the Arab street has impacted Washington’s policy.

NEW: Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid