Terror should not hurt Tunisia's democratic gains

It is not difficult to guess why so many young people found their calling in such extremist ideologies.

By Christiane Waked

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Published: Sat 29 Jun 2019, 8:00 PM

Last updated: Sun 30 Jun 2019, 12:10 AM

Since the terrorist attacks on June 26, 2015, when a gunman armed with a Kalashnikov stormed a beach near Sousse and killed 38 people, Tunisia's has been grappling with uncertainty and faces terrorist threats both from domestically grown extremists and neighbouring Libya.
Thursday's twin bomb attacks targeting the country's security forces is yet another example. According to Emmanuel Dupuy, President of the Institute for European Perspective and Security based in Paris, "The double suicide bombing that simultaneously hit a police vehicle on Bourguiba Avenue in downtown Tunis and a barracks of the National Guard in Gorjeni, headquarters of the anti-terrorism organisation on June 27, 2019, occurred at the beginning of the tourism season and in a context of tense political climate during the run-up of the upcoming presidential and legislative elections, scheduled for October and November 2019. Also, the deterioration of the health of President Beji Caid Essebsi, 92, foreshadows a political crisis and a new institutional and inextricable puzzle."
The timing of these attacks seems very calculated. Firstly, it hits the beginning of the summer season for the tourism sector which is one of the key sources for revenue for the economy. According to a ranking of the Seto, a syndicate gathering some 70 French tour operators, Tunisia is the fourth tourist destination of the French for the upcoming summer holidays.
Secondly, this could shake the next presidential elections that already seem complicated. Dupuy explained to Khaleej Times, "According to the constitution, in case of vacancy of power the President of the parliament, Mohamed Ennaceur, is expected to hold the interim presidency. But in the event of a dispute over a possible vacancy in power, it is up to the Constitutional Court to decide. However, the latter, still has not been constituted! The only way out would therefore be a "consensual" transition of power and organisation on the agreed date of elections. However, this is not what seem to be the current political climate, where the 218 Tunisian political parties were struggling to agree on this agenda. The death of BCE would inexorably plunge the country into a period of instability, which would seem to benefit the terrorist cells linked to Daesh."
Tunisia does not have any domestic organisation that is linked to Daesh, but a group of fighters have links to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Okba Ibn Nafa.
After the defeat in Syria and Iraq, Daesh is reorganising itself and relocating its group which can turn Tunisia into a strategic platform for terrorist groups settled in Libya. The platform could also extend support to the West, including Algeria, the rest of the Maghreb, and the western part of Africa. The expansion of Daesh in the Maghreb would likely provoke some rifts with the AQIM. Since the creation of Daesh, the two groups have had disagreements over tactics and priorities.
According to UN estimates, in the past nine years around 6,000 Tunisians were engaged in various ranks of Daesh in Iraq, Syria and Libya. Most of the Tunisians have returned home, and others might also come back, and if they return en masse it could pose a real security challenge for the country.
It is not difficult to guess why so many young people found their calling in such extremist ideologies. Lack of opportunities, jobs, and a grave socio-economic crisis are to blame. The economic situation in Tunisia is bad. The level of external debt is high, at a record 78 per cent of the GDP in the first half of 2018. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) does not negate the possibility that it could cross 100-per cent mark in the coming years. Nevertheless, the unemployment rate has dropped slightly to 15.30 per cent in March 2019, from the previously reported figure of 15.50 per cent in December 2018.
Tunisians must stand united and condemn all acts of terrorism, now more than ever. The government and all the officials must study wisely the next step because any political vacuum in times like these when the economic situation is bad could lead the country to chaos and a war.
Christiane Waked is a political analyst based in Beirut

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