Summer in Tunisia always came with a packet of key elements. A golden beach with clear blue water. The sun burning the sand. French baguettes for lunch. The hotels playing a mix of the newest summer hits and soothing classic tunes on the speakers. Tunisians from nearby towns making tents out of parasols and beach towels to make sure they would give the family enough shade all day. Sisters would sit in the water talking, some in hijab and some in bikinis. Tourists would be reading books in sun chairs under straw parasols. There was always a feeling of peacefulness. Like you could just close your eyes and drift of into the endlessness of the blue water and sky. Gunshots do not belong in such scenery.
Just until a couple of months ago, Tunisia was still known as the apparent “winner” of the Arab spring. The country, which is a popular vacation destination, has a highly developed education system, a multilingual population, and after the 2011 revolution a newly established democratic system with liberal social politics
Even for Tunisians it was easy to ignore the large number of young men, who left the country to join groups in Syria. Tunisia has had problems with unemployment and corruption for a long time, but not extremists. When some jihadi fighters turned back home with the attacks on the Bardo museum in March and on the Sousse resort in June, many were shocked. Now, some are saying Tunisia might be ISIS next target.
Why would ISIS target a country that has been considered one of the most liberal and now democratic in the Arab world? Well, maybe for just that very reason. By being a part of the Arab world, Tunisia is by default mapped as one of the areas ISIS wants to take control over. A united people, under a well established democratic system, living in peace is the last thing ISIS wants for Tunisia. A radical group like this finds support for it’s ideology in places where there is instability, division and fear. So, how do you destabilize a country? In the case of Tunisia, going after the vulnerable tourist sector, which holds a significant percentage of the country’s economy is the obvious choice. It is much easier to send a brainwashed, lone wolf with a gun to a beach than to dispose well protected political leaders.
A reason to set Tunisia as the next target is also that the country borders with the ungoverned territory of Libya where ISIS has already gathered support. The people who are driven to radicalism by the despair of poverty and unemployment are given opportunities to train with ISIS in Libya. Amongst those who underwent training in Libya was Bardo attacker Jabeur Khachnaoui. It is in ISIS interest to destroy the Tunisian economy through terrorist attack so the organization can take advantage of the political divides that follows for more support.
So what is the Tunisian state doing about this? Immediately the response has been to deploy troops on the streets with police picking up terrorists suspects. While strengthened security makes any place safer, tourists are more likely to be scared off than encouraged by the sight of resorts filled with soldiers and police.
Recently the Tunisian parliament adopted a new “anti-terror” law, which gives authorities more power in the fight against ISIS. The new law is said to allow authorities to detain terror suspects for up to 15 days without access to a lawyer as well as death penalty as a possible sentence for “terror” offenses. Human rights organizations have condemned the new bill although Tunisia already have the death penalty for crimes such as murder without the sentence being implemented since 1991.
The Tunisian government have also announced plans to build a 105 mile (168km) long wall along its border with Libya, which is meant to be completed by the end of 2015.
Although only the future can show how successful the new anti-terror tactics will be, I’ll continue spending my summers on Sousse’s beaches. After all, if I didn’t, that would be like telling ISIS their strategy is working on me. It’s not. This is my country. I’ll be there under a parasol enjoying my French baguette for lunch like always.