Will Tu­nisia’s frag­ile democ­racy sur­vive?

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - BY HENRY SRE­BRNIK Henry Sre­brnik is a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science at the Univer­sity of Prince Ed­ward Is­land.

The only state to have come out of the Arab Spring with gen­uine demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions, af­ter pop­u­lar dis­con­tent top­pled the au­to­cratic Ben Ali regime in De­cem­ber 2010, is the north African na­tion of Tu­nisia.

But will this last? Re­cent events make the prog­no­sis prob­lem­atic.

Tu­nisia has strug­gled to con­tain an in­sur­gency along its por­ous bor­der with Al­ge­ria, where Is­lamist mil­i­tants have been in­creas­ingly present.

A greater prob­lem stems from An­sar al-Shariah, whose lead­ers are mem­bers of Al-Qaeda in the Is­lamic Maghreb and are now based in Syria and neigh­bour­ing Libya, and con­nected to the Is­lamic State.

It shares the goals of cleans­ing north Africa of Western in­flu­ence and in­sti­tut­ing Is­lamic law.

The chaos un­fold­ing in Libya has cre­ated large ar­eas where ex­trem­ists train, and a ready source of weapons for them from the ar­mouries of for­mer dic­ta­tor Muam­mar Gad­hafi.

And Tu­nisia it­self, a coun­try which pro­duces 80,000 univer­sity grad­u­ates a year but has around 20 per cent un­em­ploy­ment, pro­vides fer­tile soil for the dis­ap­pointed.

Three thou­sand Tu­nisians now make up the big­gest for­eign fighter con­tin­gent in the Is­lamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Last De­cem­ber, a group of Tu­nisian Is­lamists in Syria asked their com­pa­tri­ots to rise up against their own gov­ern­ment in the name of an Is­lamic Caliphate. Clearly, some have re­sponded to the call.

This year, the coun­try has been vic­tim­ized by a se­ries of ter­ror­ist in­ci­dents, mainly aimed at for­eign tourists, and de­signed to crip­ple that seg­ment of is econ­omy.

Among Tu­nisia’s tourist at­trac­tions are its cap­i­tal of Tu­nis, the an­cient ru­ins of Carthage, the Mus­lim and Jewish quar­ters on the is­land of Jerba, and var­i­ous coastal re­sorts along the Mediter­ranean Sea.

On March 18, an at­tack by three gun­men on the Na­tional Bardo Mu­seum in Tu­nis killed 21 for­eign tourists. The Is­lamic State de­clared that they had struck “cit­i­zens of the Cru­sader coun­tries.”

One week later, a soldier killed seven other troops in an at­tack at the Bou­choucha mil­i­tary base in Tu­nis.

Then, on June 26, another shooter mur­dered 40 peo­ple, most of them Bri­tish, on a beach be­tween the So­viva and Im­pe­rial Marhaba ho­tels, in a tourist com­plex near Sousse, along the Mediter­ranean.

Prime Min­is­ter Habib Es­sid, ap­pointed by Pres­i­dent Mo­hamed Beji Caid Essebsi on Feb. 5 to lead a coali­tion gov­ern­ment whose mem­bers in­clude the Is­lamist En­nahda and the sec­u­lar Afek Tounes par­ties, has an­nounced the clos­ing of 80 mosques be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for ex­trem­ist links.

Tu­nisia must take back the ter­rain of re­li­gion that it sur­ren­dered to ex­trem­ists, con­tends Sami Bra­hem, a re­searcher at Tu­nisia’s Cen­ter for Eco­nomic and So­cial Stud­ies and Re­search.

On Jan. 27, 2014, then Pres­i­dent Mon­cef Mar­zouki signed the coun­try’s new con­sti­tu­tion, adopted a day ear­lier by a con­stituent assem­bly. “With the birth of this text, we con­firm our vic­tory over dic­ta­tor­ship,” he said in a speech, wav­ing the vic­tory sign. Per­haps he spoke too soon.

A boy holds a Tu­nisian flag as he stands near bou­quets of flow­ers laid at the beach­side of the Im­pe­ri­ale Marhabada ho­tel, which was at­tacked by a gun­man in Sousse, Tu­nisia, June 27.

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