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

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    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.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora