The lessons of the Sousse terrorist attack
The terrorist attack in Sousse, Tunisia, in which 38 foreign tourists died and at least 39 were wounded, is significant on local, regional and international levels.
On the local level, the June 26th attack revealed a number of flaws. First are the obvious shortcomings of the tourist security system. Officials have admitted to that but one does not know why they did not learn from the earlier attack at the Bardo National Museum in which 22 people were killed.
The second shortcoming is the failure of authorities to eradicate conditions breeding terrorism. The Tunisian government has yet to achieve a number of crucial goals: a lasting social truce, significant reforms in regional development and taxation, adoption of anti-corruption measures, impartiality of the justice system, replacement of officials from the previous government in key positions and a vote in parliament on a counterterrorism law. There has been no clear strategy articulated regarding religious affairs.
The absence of concrete results on those issues will continue to create favourable conditions for the spread of terrorism.
On the regional level, preliminary investigations of the Sousse attack revealed direct connections to Libya. The perpetrator of the attack, Seifeddine Rezgui, trained in Libya with the terrorist group that carried out the March attack on the Bardo Museum. What is needed is tighter control of the hidden crossing points and smuggling trails between Tunisia and Libya and Tunisia and Algeria and closer surveillance of individuals returning from Libya. These measures are all the more crucial in light of signs of a struggle for the leadership in jihadist operations in North Africa.
On the international level, the same-day terrorist attacks in Sousse, France, Kuwait and Somalia illustrate the globalisation of terrorism and indicate the existence of a master plan being pursued by terrorists and their backers.
Part of this plan is to make the Islamic State (ISIS) an international ghoul after having established it as a regional monster. Through ISIS’s territorial gains, reshaping the political map of the Arab region becomes possible.
Reaching solutions to the problems will not be easy but it is imperative for Tunisian authorities to bring about profound changes in their security strategies on three levels: logistics and equipment, intelligence (and here it pains me that the various post-revolution governments in Tunisia let go of security cadres highly competent in fighting terrorism, one of whom has since been recruited by the CIA) and pre-emptive operations.
Other urgent measures include economic and social reforms. Tunisia’s education system must install and reinforce the concept of citizenship with all its implications in terms of civil rights and duties. Students must be better trained in critical thinking to prevent extremist ideology from taking root. Similar changes must take place in religious discourse and thinking. Reforms of the judicial system must lead to real impartiality.
Only when these changes are made will terrorism find it difficult to weave its way into Tunisia’s social fabric. Regionally, what is needed is a comprehensive plan for closer cooperation in terrorist-related intelligence sharing among Arab and African governments. This intelligence must target all aspects of terrorism, including its ideological and financing sources.
The situation in Kuwait is a case in point. Following the June attack on a mosque, stateless Bedouin elements in Kuwait remain a ticking time bomb as pointed out by media reports. The spread of Salafist thinking is a threat to the parliamentary tradition and could eventually corrode the foundations of this small emirate known for the diversity of its political parties.
In Libya, the solution must be political. A national unity government is the best starting position for countering terrorist activities. The same applies to Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
The rational mind says making concessions, even painful ones, is a thousand times better than continued armed strife.
Finally, all Arab states must come together in a concerted project to reform religious thinking. I suggest a committee of specialists, from various countries, in theology, humanities, social sciences, law, hard sciences and political science be created and endowed with the mission of elucidating controversial ideological concepts, such as jihad and the state-religion relations. It would have conferences leading to recommendations for officials to implement.
International efforts to counter terrorism must be strengthened. Strategies in place, however, need to be changed. The current US-led international coalition will fail if it limits its intervention to air strikes. What is needed is an all-out international war on terrorism similar to the fight against Nazism and fascism, followed by a modern Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of areas and economies devastated by terrorism.
In the final analysis, the hope is the attacks on Tunisia, Kuwait and France would serve as the starting point for a more comprehensive counterterrorist strategy lest the entire world be run over by extremism.