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The implications of the Tunisia riots


George Brock explains why the coverage of the protests in Tunisia haven't garnered as much Western press as Iran's 2009 Green Movement:

* The difference in excitement levels is largely confined to America. There is a huge Iranian diaspora in the US and that helped to spread new of what was happening in Tehran (also less than a revolution) very fast.

* Tunisia has always belonged to the French-speaking world and not the Anglo-Saxon. The French media established media have covered the story.

* Itâ??s a big story in the Middle East. Iâ??m writing from Dubai, where the story is on the front pages and satellite channels day after day. Even in the more circumspect newspapers of Saudi Arabia (where Iâ??ve just been), itâ??s still a big item.

* Working as a foreign correspondent in Tunisia is more difficult and dangerous than often supposed. As Bassam Bounenni recalls, â??in 2005, on the eve of the World Summit on Information Society in Tunis, Christophe Boltanski, a reporter with the French daily Libération, was beaten and stabbed. His colleague, Florence Beaugé, from Le Monde, was luckier because she was only stopped at the Tunis airport and expelled from the country hours before the 2009 presidential election.â?

* Tunisia is smaller and geopolitically less significant than Iran.

Read the whole thing. Meanwhile, Shadi Hamid argued yesterday that the U.S. should get off the sidelines:

Morally speaking, there is a right side and a wrong side. Practically speaking, Ben Ali, however brutal, has been an "ally" for a considerable amount of time. This is why US policy in the Arab world has always struck me as fundamentally untenable in the long-run. Autocracies, to my knowledge, do not last forever. But we never took even preliminary steps of distancing ourselves from them, to prepare ourselves for the eventuality that they might fall. So now when tens of thousands of Arabs all across the region are stating, with unmistakable clarity, that they will no longer accept the authoritarian status quo, they are forcing us to take sides, testing our so-called "moral clarity." What they are really doing, I suspect, is forcing us to fall on the wrong side of history. This is not a good place to be.

As much as I agree that the U.S. should not be on the side of Middle Eastern/North African autocrats, the idea that we can simply throw those same autocrats under the bus while simultaneously holding onto the notion that America is the provider of stability and security in the Middle East is untenable. The U.S. pact with the devil in the region is born directly from a set of U.S. interests in the region - the defense of Israel and the stability and security of oil exporters. If you want to junk the autocrats, as I think would be wise over the medium term, then you have to redefine America's role with respect to those interests.

For what will happen in a more democratic Middle East is likely what we see happening in Turkey - countries that were "allied" to us when there was no democratic accountability will start to distance themselves from the United States when there is. I think in the longer term, if the U.S. gets on the "right side" of the democracy question, liberalizing states in the region would eventually lesson their hostility toward the U.S. and (possibly) Israel and appreciate the fact that we stepped back from our Faustian bargain with their autocratic rulers. But there doesn't seem to be any indication that the U.S. is willing to rethink its current set of regional interests in light of longer-term considerations.

(AP Photo)