Sheltering Tunisia’s Democratic Experiment from the Region’s Storms
A question on many policymakers minds is what is the blowback from Tunisia into Libya. I treat this question in a piece for the Atlantic Council with the newest member of the Libya-Analysis team, Andrea Brody-Barre. She brings an internal Tunisian perspective to the question while I try to highlight the many pitfalls of Western powers relying on a counterterror playbook to deal with the multifaceted threat.
Tunisia’s struggle with Salafi jihadist groups has intensified since the ousting of former president Zine El Abdine Ben Ali in 2011, which catalyzed the Arab uprisings, through the Tunisian-Libyan militant nexus laid in the 1980s. When the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, took the helm of the National Constituent Assembly in 2011, it was reluctant to curb Salafi jihadist elements, perhaps hoping that political openness would entice other nonviolent Salafis into its moderate Islamist fold. The approach failed. Rather than uniting the Islamist camp, the past three years have seen it splinter, leading to jihadist attacks on mainstream Tunisian politicians.
Domestic Tunisian reactions to the Sousse attack also treat symptoms rather than root causes. The planned construction of a wall along the Libyan border is perhaps less concerning than the State of Emergency declared on July 4. Neither will likely halt any determined jihadist attacks. Rather, these measures represent a curtailing of Tunisians’ freedoms. In their wake, Essebsi has taken on expanded powers, police and military have increased authority, and the government has moved to close down eighty mosques. Deaf to both international and domestic activists’ concerns, parliament adopted a questionable “law against terrorism and money laundering.” Essebsi, who some see as a relic of the old guard, could be on the verge of a crackdown that would open up dangerous and possibly irreversible fissures.
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