Last Friday, popular protests over unemployment and corruption forced Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to resign after 23 years in power. A Tunisian prosecutor has opened an investigation into the overseas assets of Ben Ali and his family, much of which are widely believed to be the fruit of corruption, and some of which the Tunisian government may try to recover. France, Switzerland, and Germany have all announced the freezing of assets linked to the Ben Ali clan; the European Union is considering doing so.
But the U.S. has made no such announcement, and the issue of U.S. support for Tunisian efforts to track and possibly recover these assets hasn't, to my knowledge - and I've been searching for it, and asking reporters and others about it - even been mentioned in the press. Shouldn't the US also move to freeze any assets in the U.S. linked to the Ben Ali clan, and indicate its full support for Tunisian efforts to recover stolen assets?
On Wednesday, the Tunisian prosecutor's office moved to investigate overseas bank accounts, real estate and other assets held by Ben Ali, his wife Leila Trabelsi and other relatives, while Switzerland froze assets linked to Ben Ali and 40 people in his entourage. On Saturday, France announced that it was blocking "suspicious financial movements concerning Tunisian assets." Germany has also announced moves to freeze the assets of Ben Ali's family.
Back in 1969, when Secretary of State Clinton was writing her senior thesis at Wellesley on Chicago community organizer Saul Alinsky, she must have come across this line on page 9 of Alinksy's book "Rules for Radicals":
"Revolution by the Have-Nots has a way of inducing a moral revelation among the Haves."
"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 has 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?