World View: Concerns Grow About Tunisia’s Stability as Economic Protests Escalate

TUNISIA, Tunis : Tunisian protesters shoot slogans during a demonstration called by the supporters of radical Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir to protest against the draft Constitution that they consider "secular" on January 24, 2014 in Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis. Tunisian lawmakers are to vote on January 25, 2014 adopting …

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Tunisia remains the #1 source of foreign fighters for ISIS
  • Tunisia’s town of Ben Guerdane on Libya border exemplifies problems
  • Escalating economic protests across Tunisia threaten country’s stability
  • France’s new ambassador to Tunisia commits huge gaffe

Tunisia remains the #1 source of foreign fighters for ISIS

Sources of foreign fighters joining ISIS (Soufan Group, 2015)
Sources of foreign fighters joining ISIS (Soufan Group, 2015)

On December 17, 2010, street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi doused himself in gasoline and set himself on fire in a town in central Tunisia, after police allegedly confiscated his fruit and vegetable stand because he lacked a permit. Bouazizi later died. His act of self-immolation set off the “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia, as well as the “Arab Spring” in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria.

The Jasmine Revolution ousted Tunisia’s long-time president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, but Tunisia’s experience is considered the “gold standard” for the Arab Spring because the transition of power was peaceful, and Tunisia is still a secular democracy, as contrasted to the violence in other Arab countries.

It is the peaceful nature of its transition that some people are now blaming for Tunisia’s severe problems with jihadi terrorists.

In March of last year, two terrorist gunmen infiltrated security at the well-known Bardo Museum in Tunis, right next door to the parliament building. They took and killed 22 hostages, with 50 people injured. Almost all of the casualties were foreign tourists.

Tunisians were still in shock from that attack, when another attack occurred in June. A gunman disguised as a tourist opened fire at a Tunisian hotel in Sousse on Friday, killing 37 people.

Perhaps the most significant fact about Tunisia is that it’s the number one source of foreign fighters who have gone to Syria to join the so-called Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh). Some 5,500 Tunisian citizens are now fighting in Syria and in Libya, far more than any other country. According to a CNN study, around 8,800 young Tunisians have been stopped at the border.

Some people are claiming that the reason is the huge disappointment in that things have not changed since the Jasmine Revolution. One foreign language teacher in Tunisia is quoted as explaining:

Among one single family, six children have gone to Syria. Yet, they come from a middle-class family. So how do you explain this? The reason is that they grew up in a country without moral values. During the former regime, a family man could be humiliated in front of his kids by the lowest employee of an administration, without being able to defend himself. The father figure has been shattered. They all grew up without a sense of respect for the law because of corruption.

And yet, police brutality continues, especially against young people, and the economy is suffering. The reasons for radicalization are various, however, they are all rooted in deep feelings of injustice and disappointment due to the unkept promises that were made after the 2011 uprising: access to economic and social rights, more jobs for the youth, and reforms in the security ministry.

Last year’s terrorist attacks were successful in that tourism to Tunisia has plummeted, with the economy losing as much as $2 billion. With so many young people unemployed, ISIS has found it fruitful to target Tunisian youth for radicalization, and once again, ISIS has apparently been very successful.

Washington Times and Middle East Eye and Reuters

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Tunisia’s town of Ben Guerdane on Libya border exemplifies problems

In March of this year, ISIS militants from Libya crossed the border into Tunisia, and attempted to establish a permanent outpost in the Tunisian city of Ben Guerdane.

Things got worse in March, when the Islamic State suddenly attempted to seize the Tunisian city of Ben Guerdane, near the border with Libya. Tunisian security forces crushed the attack, but 45 militants and 13 Tunisian security personnel were killed.

To prevent further ISIS infiltration, Tunisia’s security forces have allegedly been torturing and killing anyone who seems suspicious. Security forces have killed more than 60 people near the border, including many children.

Because Ben Guerdane is on the border with Libya, it’s a major smuggling gateway between the two countries. However, corruption is high according to a Ben Guerdane resident:

Lives here don’t seem to matter. The army and national guards fight over who controls the roads [used by smugglers].

Smugglers who refuse to pay bribes are shot. When Daesh attacked, the smugglers begged the security forces to give them arms [to fight Daesh], while security personnel were asking for [smuggled] cigarettes.

On September 3, a young man suspected of smuggling was shot and killed by a military patrol unit. This triggered a protest march followed by violent demonstrations on September 5. Further unrest is expected. Tunisia Live and Anadolu

Escalating economic protests across Tunisia threaten country’s stability

Protest activity in cities across Tunisia (AEI)
Protest activity in cities across Tunisia (AEI)

The violent demonstrations in Ben Guerdane on September 5 were followed by violent demonstrations in Fernana, a town in northwestern Tunisia, starting on September 7 and continuing for several day. Protests are spreading to other cities in Tunisia in a manner resembling the original Jasmine Revolution.

It’s feared that the demonstration are going to worsen. Thanks to the two terrorism attacks last year, tourism revenues have been slashed.

With a surging national budget deficit, it’s going to be necessary to implement an austerity program, including sharp cuts in public spending, possibly laying off many public sector workers. Tunisia’s prime minister Youssef Chahed announced on Friday that his ministers’ salaries will be cut by 30%. Each of his 40 ministers and junior ministers, who earn around $1,800 a month, will have their salaries cut by about $500 per month.

However, this move is unlikely to quell the surging discontent, or to slow down the attempts by ISIS to recruit Tunisian youth. It’s feared that the growing number of protests in cities across Tunisia is going to destabilize the country, possibly as much as the other Arab Spring countries were destabilized. AEI Critical Threats and Reuters

France’s new ambassador to Tunisia commits huge gaffe

France’s new ambassador to Tunisia, Olivier Poivre d’Arvor, generated controversy with a major gaffe in a radio interview on August 30, shortly after starting his official duties on September 10.

During the interview he said that his main concern in his new job was for the security of the 30,000 French citizens living in Tunisia, as he believed they were targets for the terrorists of Tunisia. He added that Tunisia was a major supplier of terrorists.

One person in social media is quoted as saying:

Mr. Ambassador thank you for your feelings towards my country Tunisia, but about the security of French nationals in Tunisia, it is ensured by the Tunisian authorities. Your main mission is to convey to your government the expectations of a country that had thought to count on its first partner for a successful democratic transition.

In attempting to recover from the gaffe, the French embassy said that the ambassador “notably mentioned support for the consolidation of democracy in Tunisia, economic partnership and development, cultural cooperation or education assistance. It is the breadth and diversity of the French-Tunisian cooperation that make the relation exceptional, according to the term used by Olivier Poivre d’Arvor himself, which makes France the leading partner of Tunisia.” Tunisia Live and TAP (Tunisia)

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Tunisia, Mohamed Bouazizi, Jasmine Revolution, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, Arab Spring, Bardo Museum, Islamic State / of Iraq and Syria/Sham/the Levant, IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, Ben Guerdane, Libya, Fernana, Youssef Chahed, France, Olivier Poivre d’Arvor
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