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

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline 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.
Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Webi
X
January 29, 2015 9:58 AM
Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video As Ground Shifts, Obama Reviews Middle East Strategy

The death of Saudi Arabia’s king, the collapse of a U.S.-friendly government in Yemen and a problematic relationship with Israel’s leadership are presenting a new set of complications for the Obama administration and its Middle East policy. Not only is the U.S. leader dealing with adversaries in Iran, the Islamic State and al-Qaida, but he is now juggling trouble with traditional allies, as White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Saved By a Mistake - an Auschwitz Survivor's Story

Dagmar Lieblova was 14 when she arrived at Auschwitz in December 1943, along with her entire Czech Jewish family. All of them were to die there, but she was able to leave after several months due to a bureaucratic mix-up which saved her life. Now 85, with three children and six grandchildren, she says she has a feeling of victory. This report by Ahmad Wadiei and Farin Assemi, of RFE/RL's Radio Farda is narrated by RFE’s Raymond Furlong.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid