Tunisian Protests Move Hillary’s Line on Democratic Reform

Tunisian Protests Move Hillary

Back in 1969, when Secretary of State Clinton was researching her senior thesis at Wellesley on Chicago community organizer Saul Alinsky, she likely come across this saying of Alinksy’s, which you can find in his book”Rules for Radicals“:

Revolution by the Have-Nots has a way of inducing a moral revelation among the Haves.

Thursday, Secretary Clinton delivered what the New York Times called a “scalding critique” to Arab leaders at a conference in Qatar.

“The region’s foundations are sinking into the sand,” Clinton said, calling for “political reforms that will create the space young people are demanding, to participate in public affairs and have a meaningful role in the decisions that shape their lives.” Those who would “prey on desperation and poverty are already out there,” Clinton warned, “appealing for allegiance and competing for influence.”

As Secretary Clinton made her remarks, the Times noted, “unrest in Tunisia that threatened its government while serving to buttress her arguments” was among the events that “echoed loudly in the background.”

Friday, Tunisian president Ben Ali reportedly fled the country, and the Tunisian prime minister says he is now in charge.

Popular protest can bring down the government in an Arab country. Who knew?

It’s a whole new ball game, as they say in Chicago. You think Friday’s events in Tunisia are going to affect conversations in Algeria and Egypt? Maybe even in Haiti? I think they will. So does AP:

The shakeup was certain to have repercussions in the Arab world and beyond – as a sign that even a leader as entrenched and powerful as Ben Ali could be brought down by massive public outrage.

Could Secretary of State Clinton’s remarks in Qatar presage a shift in US policy? It’s not impossible to imagine. After all, Clinton’s senior thesis pointed to the idea that there’s another path to reform besides revolution in the street. Leaders can anticipate. You don’t have to wait until protesters are at the gate. You could take the long view.

Today, US policy in Haiti stands at a fork in the road.

One path away from the fork has been suggested by a draft report of a team from the Organization of American States that is trying to salvage Haiti’s disputed November 28 presidential election. According to this proposal, Haiti’s election commission would recalculate the preliminary results of the election so that a different set of two candidates would go to a run-off vote. If the US backs this path, it would be backing an election in which nearly three quarters of the Haitian electorate did not participate, either in protest at the exclusion of parties such as Fanmi Lavalas (the party of deposed former President Aristide), or because they were prevented from voting, or because they didn’t see in any of the allowed candidates a realistic hope for addressing Haiti’s problems.

Ratifying a recalculated result of this dubious election could lead to Tunisian-style protests in Haiti. Reuters notes Friday, reporting on a protest in which one Haitian was killed, that this happened “amid widespread concerns that an experts’ report from the Organization of American States (OAS), which challenges the official results of Haiti’s November 28 national elections, could spur fresh outbreaks of unrest.”

The other path away from the fork would be to respond to the calls from Haitian civil society for a new election run by a new electoral council, a call recently supported by Rep. Maxine Waters.

Some people in Washington say that a new election in Haiti would be too expensive. This argument is outrageously silly. The November election cost $30 million, a cost shared by the US and other countries. The US spends more than $30 million on the war in Afghanistan every three hours. Moreover, the next government in Haiti is expected to oversee $11 billion in reconstruction funds. A key means by which we can ensure that $11 billion will be well spent is to create “the space young people are demanding, to participate in public affairs and have a meaningful role in the decisions that shape their lives.” $30 million is 0.27 percent of $11 billion. If a new election that seats a legitimate government saves 0.27 percent of that $11 billion from being wasted, the election will pay for itself.

If you agree with the demand of Haitian civil society for a new election, help the Center for Constitutional Rights tell Secretary of State Clinton to support this just demand.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.