Posted on January 21, 2011 in Viewpoint with James Zogby

Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division for Human Rights Watch, provided an assessment of the anti-government protests taking place in Tunisia. Stork discussed how Tunisia’s unprecedented popular uprising that forced President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali out of the country shocked many experts covering the region because of the country’s historic minor role in the politics of the Arab world. Furthermore, Stork believes that American media outlets suffered a major disconnect from covering the events taking place in Tunisia. He noted the difference in coverage of the events from French and Arabic speaking news agencies. Stork dispelled the notion that wikileaks reports highlighting corruption in the government were the central trigger for the waves of protests, stating that the underlying cause was "the sheer repression [of the government] that galvanized things."


Marina Ottaway, Director of the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, discussed the recent collapse of Lebanon’s unity government as the highly anticipated indictments from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon were transferred to a pre-trial judge for confirmation to continue into the trial process. Ottaway described the situation in Lebanon as “extremely tense” as the major power brokers, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and others have pulled out in their efforts to mediate the situation. As a result, Ottaway believes there is “a wait and see attitude” on the impending decision of the pre-trail judge. “It's like a grand jury process, if you want to equate that to the United States,” Ottaway said. She went on to say “If there is one country that can live without a government for a while it’s Lebanon.” Ottaway believes both sides and their external brokers have exhausted their political options until the pre-trial judge decides whether the evidence merits entering the trial process.


Suhail A. Khan, Senior Fellow for Christian-Muslim Understanding at the Institute for Global Engagement discussed the implications of the upcoming hearings on the “radicalization” of the Muslim community being convened by the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Representative Peter King. Khan stressed that the impending hearings are “something that Muslims and Arab Americans need to be concerned about” and stressed the need for engagement from the Muslim community. “We have time before the series of hearings commences”, Khan said. He cited discriminatory comments from Rep. King on the American Arab and Muslim community as cause for concern. However, Khan also believes that the hearings can be an “opportunity really for the community to engage and to not only engage with chairman King, but other members on the committee, both Republican and Democrat to really get a positive story out there because we [American Muslims and Arab Americans] do have a positive story to tell.”

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