Few would argue that Tunisia escaped the repercussions of its so-called Arab Spring with the least damage. The recent attack on its Bardo National Museum, however, reminds us that states like Tunisia nonetheless remain hostage to their geography and cultural and social environments. Tunisia is not an island, rather, an Islamic state, and during a time when political Islam is experiencing turmoil it remains under threat of unrest regardless of its own immunity, coherent institutions and tolerant and open-minded culture.
The main difference between what Tunisia is experiencing and the malaise we witnessed in Mashriq states is that the former remains a real “state” in the true meaning of the word.
This means that the authorities in Tunisia still have the advantage of tackling security issues in a direct and effective manner armed with broad national consensus regarding the importance of confronting cross-border terrorism. Such a situation is fundamentally different from that of the international “war against terrorism” that is being fought today in Syria, Iraq and Yemen; because there is not much difference between the extremist and terrorist groups and the government-affiliated and status quo sectarian militias and militia they are fighting.
The Ennahda party was quick to openly denounce the atrocity committed at The Bardo Museum. It is clear that Ennahda understands the reality of the situation today, perhaps more than any other Islamist group in the world. Thus, it is well aware of the danger of being viewed as an “incubator” for all terrorist groups in a country like Tunisia, noted for its enlightened society.
In spite of this, we have still noticed that some Arab media outlets, in addition to all of Iran’s state-owned media, are deliberately linking Islamist rule in Turkey with the remnants of extremism in Tunisia, as well as Libya. Whether or not there are Turkish Islamist parties that wish to establish a “system” of Islamist states in the Middle East and North Africa, saying that the leaders of Turkey are involved in supporting groups like IS and Al-Qaeda is completely illogical.
What is certain is that there are parties in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya who have contributed to tyranny and incited ethnic and sectarian intolerance, destroying their countries’ political institutions and ripping apart their social fabric. After these countries had experienced periods of prosperity and economic and cultural progress during periods of tolerance, intolerance and exclusiveness reared their ugly heads to weaken any real chance of maintaining proper civil society.
Subsequently, we find ourselves today facing these grim realities:
l The transformation of what was a national authority acting as the umbrella under which all other components of the nation gathered, expressing the nation’s ambitions and protecting its interests, into just another sectarian armed faction.
l The national army has become a sectarian or ethnic or tribal or partisan militia; thus, pushing all those who are frustrated or indignant by the status quo to form their own counter-forces.
l The disintegration of national borders in light of the absence of any security or military authority, along with the emergence of armed group with different loyalties, identities and objectives operating according to agendas that have nothing to do with the demands and interests of the local people.
l The emergence of blatant interference by regional powers holding old hegemonic objectives in the above-mentioned Arab countries. Keen to settle historic scores, they are now pushing their client religious communities in these countries to conspire against their own compatriots.
l The Arab region, as a whole, has been transformed into an open theater for international superpowers to settle their own scores with each other.
Today, for example, it would be impossible for a security solution in Iraq to succeed that does not address the dangerous political dimensions in the country; including the presence of Iran’s Quds Brigade commander Gen. Qassem Suleimani carrying out tours and “inspections” of his forces in Tikrit.
Nor can there be any solution in Syria if this is limited to a security agreement whose only goal is to hit the Islamic State (IS) and its ilk, while the Assad regime — whose actions and alliances were the main catalyst behind IS’ emergence in Syria — remains in power. And sure enough, there is no point in any attempt to put an end to the violence in Yemen if the international community, particularly the US, continues to implicitly adopt the Houthis as a strategic ally in the fight against Al-Qaeda.
These political traps that US President Barack Obama is deliberately ignoring in his dealing with the Middle East’s thorniest issues, and which most recently resulted in a terrible setback for Washington with regards to the Israeli election results, are absent — so far at least — from the Tunisian case.
In Tunisia, there are no secessionist groups threatening the unity of the country. There are no sectarian or religious or ethnic prejudices, nor any partisan or provincial party seeking to monopolize rule. Rather, Tunisia’s popular culture is known for its rational and realistic vision, particularly, how it learns from the mistakes of others, including following the Libya scenario.
However, the number of Tunisian extremists fighters in Syria and Iraq is very high, and large enough to confirm the need to develop an integrated and effective strategy to combat terrorism and extremism. If we take into account the assassinations of Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahimi, the tense situation in the Jabal ech Chaambi and the most recent attack on the museum, we must conclude that neither the Tunisian interior, nor the country’s borders with Libya and Algeria, are safe.
Against the threat of terrorism, vigilance and quick response are an absolute must.
EYAD ABU SHAKRA