We must not abandon Tunisia

Nora Hamdi Discussion, Middle East/North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Tunisia, World Politics

Yesterday we were all shocked with the grave news of three high profile terrorist attacks in one day; tourists gunned down in Tunisia; a decapitated head found dangling in front of a factory in France; and a mosque blown up in Kuwait during Friday prayers.

It was possibly one of the most shocking days in recent history, particularly for Britons, as it emerged today that most of the tourists who were gunned down were in fact British. The attack is a heavy blow for Tunisia which relies on tourism to sustain its economy. The same country which has worked tirelessly to repair its image as a first-class ‘tourist destination’, following the upheaval caused by the Arab Spring and the attack on the Bardo Museum, will now find itself even worse off than when they began.

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A beach in Sousse. A gunman pulled a Kalashnikov from an umbrella and killed 39 people.

This is the second targeted tourist attack in Tunisia this year, following the shootings at the Bardo museum in March which left 22 tourists dead. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack, using social media to name the attacker as Abu Yahya al-Qayrawani. The terrorist organisation has been urging their followers to increase assaults and attacks during the month of Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic year. Muslims are required to exercise restraint in all aspects of their life, and to refrain from food and drink from sunrise till sunset. The fact that this self-proclaimed ‘Muslim’ organisation would incite violence during this month could possibly be the greatest paradox of the year.

The problem of extremism in Tunisia has been exacerbated by the ongoing civil war in Libya which sees organisations loyal to ISIS involved in the bitter conflict. In February ISIS claimed responsibility for the execution of Christians in Libya, announcing their growing presence in the country. The conflict has resulted in large numbers of Libyans fleeing to Tunisia, which has been unable to organise an efficient vetting system to prevent the potential for terrorists loyal to ISIS from crossing. This is not due to any lack of competence on the part of the government but rather due to the very sensitive and difficult matter of balancing the need to provide humanitarian assistance to citizens legitimately fleeing civil war, and ensuring the security and stability of the Tunisian people.

So where do we go from here? Are we to write off Tunisia off our bucket lists because of the threat of terrorism? Some people will answer ‘of course’, without truly realising the extent of their words. Just a few years ago, Tunisia had a thriving tourism industry, with millions arriving every year to enjoy the sandy beaches and the Sahara desert. Security was high as a result and the country enjoyed the benefits that accompanies tourism. Today however, many Tunisians have found themselves out of work as a result of the deteriorating tourism industry, and unemployment and poverty are growing rapidly, creating an environment ripe for promoting extremist propaganda.

Tunisia is of vital importance to the democratic principles that we all hold dear. It is the only country from the Arab Spring that has successfully seen a transition from dictatorship to a true democracy through free and fair elections. The country now sees genuine political debate and discussion, and the plurality of political parties is reminiscent of the freedom we enjoy in Europe. As a result, this country should be supported with all we have to offer, and that includes reinforcing the economy by continuing to visit the country, creating jobs and pulling people out of poverty and unemployment. I was in Sousse just a few weeks ago, staying in the same area as the attack. But even after this attack, I will go back to Tunisia without fear. Because, at the end of the day, if we allow terrorism to prevail and scare us away, then we have abandoned the people and allowed terror to win.

Also read:

Tunisia: The Jewel of the Mediterranean by Nora Hamdi