Tunisian revolution: How the U.S. should respond
Tunisians proved to the world the immense power of social networking when protesters leveraged sites such as Twitter and Posterous to lead a movement against President Zine el Abidine ben Ali, who flew the coop for safety in Paris on Friday.
On Thursday, just as Tunisia was on the brink of revolution, Democracy Arsenal, an opinion and commentary site devoted to global affairs, suggested action the U.S. should take so that the country doesn’t remain in a state of violence and chaos.
We are entering a critical phase, and the Western response -- which so far has been lacking, to say the least -- may very well prove decisive in pushing Tunisia in one direction or the other. But let me be clear, as some of my colleagues have criticized me for overestimating U.S. influence in the Arab world. What America does may not decide whether the revolution actually happens, but it will be crucial in the aftermath. Even if the Ben Ali regime falls, it does not mean it will be replaced by a functioning democracy. The most likely outcome, at least in the short run, is chaos. To turn chaos into something more constructive will require something beyond half-hearted Western statements of "concern."
The U.S. may very well have limited leverage in Tunisia. But France and other EU nations have close relations with the Ben Ali regime. Tunisia depends on Europe for trade and tourism. So, first of all, the U.S. should be coordinating with its European allies. Maybe this wasn't so important yesterday. But now it is, and so it should call for serious, determined action on the part of the international community.
That, while the U.S. understands the security concerns involved, the U.S. will not tolerate the police/military shooting into crowds. And that any excessive loss of life will permanently damage Tunisia's relations with the West. For starters, the U.S. could withdraw its ambassador in protest of mass killing (already around 50 are reported dead).
It will be interesting to see if those same protesters leverage social media to get an adequate Western response. (Or if interim leader Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi is reading their tweets.)
-- Alexandra Le Tellier