Democracy: Do right by Tunisia this time
17 January 2011
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Now that Europe's longtime ally Ben Ali has fled abroad, Tunisia's democratic forces must face off the regime's old guard. This time around, will Europe do the right thing?
"European Neighbourhood Policy": it sounds lucid, almost leisurely. But such felicitous phrasing coming from Brussels only shrouds the ambivalent arrangements with those difficult neighbours, formerly rooted not so prettily in Europe's "backyard", and now solicited as "partners".
In a clockwise direction, this backyard begins in the north with the Belarus of dictator Lukashenko and the Ukraine of the authoritarian president Yanukovych, the countries through which two gas pipelines to Europe transit. Extending south via the Caucasus and the unquiet lands of the Middle East, it reaches the sandy shores of northern Africa.
Thanks to their abundant resources not just in oil and gas but in narcotics (imported), refugees (imported) and Islamism (imported) as well, the leaders of that region have Europe listening closely.
European dithering over the Tunisian crisis shows just how naive it was to brush the whole trouble with its Middle Eastern/North African neighbours under the carpet of a fraternal Union for the Mediterranean.
Sarkozy, leader of the dance troupe
Leading the dance from Paris, Sarkozy sought to shift the geopolitical focus of European integration along the Berlin-Paris axis towards the south, choosing – of all people – the geriatric kleptocrat Ben Ali as a favoured partner. (Berlusconi meanwhile cuddled up to Gaddafi.)
Was that really appropriate? The payoff was not justified by the mere fact that the relatively prosperous Tunisia, squeezed in between the perpetually simmering Algeria and the erratically steered Libya, remained a zone of mollified Islamism.
From Tunis' point of view, Paris is the capital of Europe. But France's leaders encouraged the demonstrators’ thirst for democracy only after Ben Ali had stolen away.
All too often, interference in ex-colonies can backfire. Much earlier, Paris could have come up with more ways and means of strengthening civil society and the political opposition in Tunisia. Right now, the faster the old men of the degenerate regime set up a puppet show of quasi-democratic elections, the harder it will be for the forces of freedom to join up in time.
The Tunisian people can take pride in pulling off alone what Europe could barely dream of. Hopefully now, in this decisive phase, support from Europe will not come too late.
Translated from the German by Anton Baer