Q&A With Steven A. Cook and Jared Cohen on Tunisia
Increased connectivity allows for the spread of liberal, open values but also poses a number of dangers. To foster the free flow of information and challenge authoritarian regimes, democratic states will have to learn to create alliances with people and companies at the forefront of the information revolution.
Last week's mass protests in Tunisia were less a symptom of economic malaise than of a society fed up with its broken dictatorship. Should the other autocratic regimes in the Middle East and North Africa be afraid?
This article appears in the Foreign Affairs/CFR eBook, The New Arab Revolt.
Thirty-SEVEN years of fighting, thirty-three years of Destourian leadership, ten years of independence: a propitious moment to draw up a balance sheet, to illuminate the ideas behind our actions. When I go back in my mind to the 1930s, and compare the Tunisia of those days with Tunisia now, I am filled with optimism and rejoice to think of what my country and my people will be by the end of this century, or even before. Colonized, humiliated, crushed by centuries of decadence and anarchy, their resources exploited by a foreign minority who tried to assimilate them and destroy their identity, the Tunisians responded to my call and became one man, to face a long, hard and unequal struggle. Finally, they won, and in victory gained not only the dignity of independence but also the necessary conditions for progress and development. We find in that struggle legitimate reasons to be proud, a source of inspiration and proof of the effectiveness of our approach.
DEBORAH JEROME: Good afternoon and welcome, all, to this Council on Foreign Relations media conference call to discuss Tunisia and the popular uprising against now-ousted President Ben Ali, who was shuttled off to Saudi Arabia on January 14th.
I am Deborah Jerome. I am the deputy editor of CFR.org. And here to answer your questions are Jared Cohen, an adjunct CFR fellow, who, among other things, has written about how technology can empower citizens in repressive regimes; and Steven Cook, a CFR senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies. Steven, by the way, has been following the events in Tunisia on his blog, which is called "From the Potomac to the Euphrates," and it is well worth checking out. You can find it on the CFR.org website.
I would like to kick this off with a multipart question for both of you. Even though things are still unsettled -- there is already a lot of talk about the possibility of Tunisia's example spawning a wave of similar uprisings in Egypt, Algeria and other countries. But I am curious to know what you think is the likely outcome of the so-called "Jasmine Revolution" in Tunisia itself. Is it likely that Tunisia will see the emergence of a pluralist, stable democracy?
And Jared, social media clearly had a role in fanning the flames of Tunisia's protests. Does it have a role in building a new and better government?
STEVEN COOK: Thanks very much, Deborah. And thanks to everybody who is spending some time with us this afternoon to talk about Tunisia.
Deborah, to answer your questions in order, I think I would say: Maybe, maybe, and maybe. We have just gone through phase one of the Tunisian uprising, and that was the ousting of longtime strongman, President Ben Ali. Now is the hard part. And transitions from one type of political system to another are contingent. They are not linear, and may not necessarily end up as liberal democracies. They can end up as narrower, nastier dictatorships. And how the interim civilian leadership deals with this six-month interim period in organizing elections, and importantly, how the Tunisian military establishment, which has been thrust into a critical role in Tunisian politics--how they deal with this transition period will tell us a lot about the future trajectory. But at this point, it is unclear what is going to happen...