Saturday, January 15, 2011

Three questions for Marwan Bishara

Al Jazeera's senior political analyst comments on the timing, success and meaning of the Tunisian uprising.

Marwan Bishara

"....Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst, comments on three crucial issues.

The recent dramatic change in Tunisia has come as a surprise to most. How do you explain its success, timing and speed?

The simplest and perhaps the most accurate answer was "provided" almost a century ago by Tunisian poet Abu Al-Qasem Al-Shabi (Schebbi), in his Defenders of the Homeland which became the most popular verse in Arab poetry, and used in the Tunisian national anthem: "When people decide to live, destiny shall obey, and one day ... the slavery chains must be broken.".....

How does such an unpopular oppressive regime stay off the radar of the international community?

The so-called international community has been traditionally silent about totalitarian practices and abuses within its member states, except in cases where certain Western countries or powers have invoked questions of regime oppression either as a tool of foreign policy or championing the cause of human rights for public consumption.

So that when those regimes, as in Tunisia, co-operated with their Western counterparts on economic or strategic issues, their abuses of power have been generally ignored.

Much of which explains Western leaders' silence or confusion regarding the Tunisian "uprising", but their rush to support the "uprising" of the Iranian opposition following the elections last year. Call it hypocrisy.

But what does Tunisia have to offer?

For US and European leaders, Tunisia's deposed president had been considered a staunch ally in the war on terrorism and against Islamist extremism.

As it is well known and reported by international human rights groups, he exploited this Western support to crack down on peaceful dissent.

During a 2004 visit by Ben Ali to the White House, in advance of Tunisia's hosting of an Arab League summit, George Bush, the then US president, praised his guest as an ally in the war on terrorism, and praised Tunisia's reforms in "press freedom" and the holding of "free and competitive elections".

The same was repeated in 2008 by Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, who praised the improved "sphere of liberties" when human rights abuses were rampant in Tunisia. In once instance, at least 200 people were prosecuted against the backdrop of socio-economic protests in one southern mining town, Redhayef.

When certain European officials criticised Tunisia's human rights record, they generally praised its economic performance.

France is Tunisia's leading trade partner and its fourth largest foreign investor, while 80 per cent of the country's trade is with the European Union.

Arguably, the neoliberal economic opening to Western investments has played no small part in the deterioration of the economic situation in Tunisia and other Arab countries."

No comments: