Tunisia needs support in the face of terror

Friday 17/07/2015

It is quite understandable that the British government and Danish leaders are concerned for the safety of their nationals in the wake of recent attacks by Islamist terrorists on Tunisian sites favoured by tourists: the Bardo National Museum in Tunis and a popular beach resort in Sousse, where a gunman walked through the resort firing indiscriminately at foreign tourists in a cold-blooded attack. Thirty-eight people were killed; all but eight were Britons.

Showing such concern is, after all, what governments are meant to do. But calling tourists to shun any one country carries conse­quences. In the case of Tunisia, the call on British travellers and other countries following suit will deeply affect Tunisia’s tourism business. It will swell the ranks of the unemployed in a country where jihadist formations seem to have implanted solid radicalisa­tion and recruitment venues.

More young Tunisians have volunteered to fight in the ranks of the Islamic State (ISIS) than in most other Arab countries, about 5,500 by some estimates. Many have returned to Tunisia, equipped with rudimentary military training and some presumably acting as “sleepers”, waiting to strike.

In light of threats from jihadists who have declared war on just about everyone who does not accept their distorted vision of Islam, this problem is not just Tunisia’s. It concerns Britain as much and the right approach at this crucial time for Tunisia is to give full support to the country’s government and its people who are fighting for a democratic way of life.

If Britain believes the situation is so worrisome that it calls for its nationals to pack up and leave, then, by George, it’s high time for Britain and Western allies to make a stand against the terrorists — in Tunisia.

Asking people not to travel to Tunisia is precisely what the terrorists hoped to achieve. The intent of the cowardly terrorist acts is twofold: first, to kill as many foreigners as possible, and second, to strike a blow at Tunisia’s economy, which will render the government weak, facilitating the work of radical Islamists who hope that their nefarious actions will create the type of generalised anarchy they seek, allowing them to wrangle their way into power.

Why are the jihadists so focused on Tunisia?

Tunisia represents everything they want to abolish. The people of Tunisia were the first in the Arab world to rise up against their authoritarian regime and force the government to change. They demonstrated that they were able to have fair elections and voted to follow a democratic approach to governance. All along they have rejected theocratic government and way of life.

Tunisia is under siege and it is of great importance that Europe and the United States not hesitate in supporting the government and the people of Tunisia. In many ways the country will be looked at as a test case by radical Islamists to gauge the West’s reaction, determination and commitment to supporting smaller pro-Western countries.

Tunisia needs two things in the immediate level. It needs finan­cial aid to get over the economic disaster of losing an entire tourist season — if not many more — and military assistance.

Tunisia’s status as a “non- NATO ally” of the United States has just been approved, paving the way for enhanced security cooperation between the coun­tries.

This privileged position offers Tunisia a number of advantages in training and equipment acquisition that would help it fight terrorism but today’s security needs of Tunisia encom­pass more than that. Buttressing the country’s economic and democratic experiment would require clearly supportive initiatives from the West as it faces the current terrorism onslaught.