Global Ethics Corner: Tunisia: The Jasmine Revolution and Western Foreign Policy

Jan 27, 2011

In Tunisia, the Jasmine Revolution showed the vulnerability of unpopular and anti-democratic regimes. Should the West support authoritarian regimes to contain political Islam? Should it watch popular passions erect potentially anti-democratic governments? Is there a third alternative?

In Tunisia, the Jasmine Revolution showed the vulnerability of unpopular and anti-democratic regimes.

Despite Western backing, President Ben Ali, who ruled with an iron fist for 23 years, was ousted quickly and decisively by his people.

For Lamis Andoni of Al Jazeera, this is a message to other tyrants in the Arab world that they are not immune from popular anger.

The revolution again confronts the West with a never-ending dilemma.

For realists in international politics, power is favored over principle, near-term trumps long-term, and the internal affairs of other states are their own business.

However, the values of democracy, human rights, and law are the rhetoric of Western policy.

In Tunisia the dilemma is obvious. Political Islam is thought by many to be inherently anti-democratic, for example the election of an Islamic government means "one man, one vote, but only one time."

Journalist Roger Cohen of the The New York Times has a different take. He writes that in the Arab world, the West tries to contain political Islam, which requires passive or active support of corrupt, repressive, unpopular, authoritarian governments.

The Jasmine Revolution raises serious doubts about the sustainability of these unpopular regimes, and questions the wisdom of the West's close ties to "friendly tyrants."

Cohen argues that the U.S. should support democratic transformation in Tunisia and elsewhere, even if it means freedom to political Islamic movements.

What do you think? Should the West support authoritarian regimes to contain political Islam? Should it watch popular passions erect potentially anti-democratic governments? Is there a third alternative?

By William Vocke

For more information see:

Lamis Adoni, "To the Tyrants of the Arab World…," Al Jazeera, January 16, 2011.

Roger Cohen, "The Arab Gdansk," The New York Times, January 11, 2011.

Photo Credits in order of Appearance

Nasser Nouri
Nasser Nouri
Nasser Nouri
Michael Gross
U.S. Department of State
Nasser Nouri
Bellyglad
Nasser Nouri
Kormin
Michael Gross
Nasser Nouri

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