How Tunisia Got Transformed into a Major Exporter of Jihadists?

The terrorist attack on the Christmas fair in Berlin that occurred on December 19, resulted in government officials pledging their commitment to the speedy deportation of failed asylum seekers, since the attacker was a Tunisian migrant. Tunisians have been treated extremely cautiously in Europe recently and at this stage it’s imperative for us to understand why. 

Why Tunisia, which was believed to be the most advanced democracy in the whole Arab world is now perceived as a major exporter of jihadists?

Six years ago, in December 2010, a 26-year-old street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of the Sidi Bouzid town hall to protest the injustice of the police harassment he was subjected to. This suicide shook the very foundation of the country and led to a massive civilian unrest that would force President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to resign and flee abroad. This second “Jasmine Revolution” marked the beginning of the so-called “Arab Spring”, which affected a large number of Middle Eastern and Northern African states.

One of the main driving forces of the Tunisian “Jasmine Revolution” was the youth. Back in the day, more than 60% of all unemployed in Tunisia were young men and women, who became a burden for their families after receiving an expensive education, yet they were forced to sit indoors without a chance of getting employed.

After the initial success of the second “Jasmine Revolution”, many would like to export their revolutionary euphoria in other Arab countries. However, it would be a mistake to claim that they were guided by religious considerations, since most of those young revolutionaries were radicalized abroad.

As the years passed, the results of the revolution were nowhere to be found and little changed in the day to day lives of the Tunisian population. In the absence of new jobs unemployment got much worse, which forced the government in a position when it had no arguments to counter the extremist propaganda that was spreading like cancer across the state. There was nothing to fill the ideological and educational niche and Islamists took full advantage of this fact. If you find yourself in Tunisia one day, you will stumble upon mosque, after mosque, after mosque. This is especially true in rural areas of the country, where there are no clubs for the young, no cultural events or other recreational opportunities.

Unemployment, marginalization and social crisis resulted in the young people being pushed abroad. An educated Tunisian had two times less of a chance to get employed that an uneducated one, since there were no professional jobs in the country. All these factors pushed those young souls right into the jihadi hands.

Abroad, where young Tunisian people tried to find a better future, they were treated with disregard and contempt, especially in Europe. In turn, recruiters from various terrorist organizations were happy to have them, since they are receiving up to 10 thousand dollars for each recruited militant. In addition, the terrorist organizations are providing financial support to the relatives of their jihadi fighters.

Against this background, terrorism quickly became Tunisia’s major problem. In 2015, extremists attacked the National Museum and a hotel in the Sousse resort area, which resulted in almost 60 foreign tourists killed. Later that year, Islamists blew up a bus carrying presidential guards.

The Government of Tunisia has been trying to solve the problem of the radicalization of its youth by purely repressive measures. In the summer of 2015 the Tunisian parliament passed a new anti-terrorism law that would significantly expand the authority of the local security forces. As for the national program for the prevention of radicalization of young people and the rehabilitation of those who have already been recruited by terrorists, it is nowhere to be found.

This resulted in Tunisia getting transformed into a breeding ground for jihadists. The New Yorker would note that between six and seven thousand Tunisians have waged jihad in Syria and Iraq. At least fifteen hundred more have crossed the Libyan border; by some accounts, Tunisians constitute half the jihadis in that failed state. As many as seven hundred have returned home, and the government claims to have prevented sixteen thousand from embarking on jihad.

Local security experts are afraid that Tunisia can soon be transformed into a second Somalie, as an ever increasing number of battle hardened jihadists are returning home now. It’s been reported that Tunisian jihadis have developed a reputation for being involved in extreme violence. In Iraq, they, along with other North Africans, have been known for volunteering to become suicide bombers.

The history of Tunisia – is a tragedy of secularism being induced from the top, and the poisonous Islamism, sprouting from the bottom. Religious education in Tunisia is compulsory, but there’s little depth to it. In the absence of true understanding of Islam, young people are quickly being tricked by Islamists in following their evil ways. Most Tunisians don’t know any other thing about Islam, other than washing their hands before praying.

What’s even worse is that with the way digital technology has transformed dissemination of information and culture, it is no longer practical to claim that certain behaviours or events are external, simply because they originated in other parts of the world. It’s been noted that the post-al-Qaida terrorism takes up the shape of its host and consumes it inside out. It is no longer an entirely external problem, and face-to-face confrontation will not suffice.

Martin Berger

Neo Eastern Outlook


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