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

    Vietnam Mulls Tough Measures for ‘Misbehaving’ Chinese Tourists

    Move comes after footage surfaced online of Chinese travelers harassing a banana hawker in Da Nang

    Pakistan Social Media Star's Honor Killing Fuels Debate

    Qandeel Baloch's murder puts spotlight on deadly tradition and other mistreatment of women

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Borderi
    X
    July 22, 2016 12:30 AM
    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.
    Video

    Video Number of Syrian Refugees Arriving in US Jumps

    The United States is committed to resettling 85,000 refugees from around the world by October. Of that number, 10,000 will come from Syria and already some 4,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in the United States, many of them settling in the state of Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from Chicago, their arrival is not the end of a difficult journey to find peace and stability.
    Video

    Video Rio’s Trams Await Olympic Tourists

    Over the past century, many cities around the world replaced electric trams, prone to breakdowns and backups, with faster and more spacious buses. But for some reason restored antique trams are a huge tourist attraction. So it’s no wonder the authorities in Rio de Janeiro are busy restoring their city’s old tram line ahead of the Summer Olympic Games. VOA’ George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora