Whispering at autocrats

Did the Wikileaked State Department cables that described Tunisia’s deposed leader Zine el-Abedin Ben Ali as the head of a corrupt police state play any role in encouraging the democratic uprising against him — and thus spark the wave of protests now spreading across Egypt? I asked our experts at Human Rights Watch to canvass ...

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Did the Wikileaked State Department cables that described Tunisia's deposed leader Zine el-Abedin Ben Ali as the head of a corrupt police state play any role in encouraging the democratic uprising against him -- and thus spark the wave of protests now spreading across Egypt?

I asked our experts at Human Rights Watch to canvass their sources in the country, and the consensus was that while Tunisians didn't need American diplomats to tell them how bad their government was, the cables did have an impact. The candid appraisal of Ben Ali by U.S. diplomats showed Tunisians that the rottenness of the regime was obvious not just to them but to the whole world -- and that it was a source of shame for Tunisia on an international stage. The cables also contradicted the prevailing view among Tunisians that Washington would back Ben Ali to the bloody end, giving them added impetus to take to the streets. They further delegitimized the Tunisian leader and boosted the morale of his opponents at a pivotal moment in the drama that unfolded over the last few weeks.

Read more.

Did the Wikileaked State Department cables that described Tunisia’s deposed leader Zine el-Abedin Ben Ali as the head of a corrupt police state play any role in encouraging the democratic uprising against him — and thus spark the wave of protests now spreading across Egypt?

I asked our experts at Human Rights Watch to canvass their sources in the country, and the consensus was that while Tunisians didn’t need American diplomats to tell them how bad their government was, the cables did have an impact. The candid appraisal of Ben Ali by U.S. diplomats showed Tunisians that the rottenness of the regime was obvious not just to them but to the whole world — and that it was a source of shame for Tunisia on an international stage. The cables also contradicted the prevailing view among Tunisians that Washington would back Ben Ali to the bloody end, giving them added impetus to take to the streets. They further delegitimized the Tunisian leader and boosted the morale of his opponents at a pivotal moment in the drama that unfolded over the last few weeks.

Read more.

Tom Malinowski is a candidate for the Democratic nomination in New Jersey's 7th congressional district. He served as U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor under President Barack Obama, from 2014 to 2017. Before that, he was Washington director for Human Rights Watch, a senior director on the National Security Council staff, President Bill Clinton’s chief foreign policy speechwriter, and a speechwriter and member of the policy planning staff at the State Department under Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher. Twitter: @Malinowski

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