Terror in Tunisia: a calculated attack on democracy

Last Wednesday’s deadly attack on tourists at Tunisia’s Bardo museum has “cast a terrible shadow” over the birthplace of the Arab Spring, says Mark Almond in The Daily Telegraph. Hopes for democracy may have “already soured” across the Middle East, but Tunisia had seemed its one success story. It is now clear that “anti-Western and anti-democratic fundamentalism” is “alive and killing” there too.

On Friday, a series of suicide bombings targeting mosques in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, killed 137, and underlined the determination of Islamic State (IS), to expand its “caliphate”, says Matthew Campbell in The Sunday Times.

IS has “transformed” the region since its “brutal conquest” last summer of Syria and northern Iraq, and several months ago it announced the creation of “provinces” in Algeria, Libya, Sinai, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

This was a “calculated attempt” to destabilise Tunisia, says the FT. When the nation of 11 million experienced its “Jasmine Revolution” in 2011, political leaders opted for “that rare Arab commodity: compromise”.

Today Tunisia is governed by a national unity government led by President Beji Caid Sebsi, comprising the Nida Tunis secular party and the moderate Islamist Nadha party. The president has been resolute, but Tunisia faces two big problems. First is the growing threat of jihadism. The attack may have been carried out by IS, which claims responsibility, but extremist groups such as al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia “run long-established local cells”.

The second issue is the economy. Tunisia’s growth is well below the level needed to provide jobs for its “disaffected youth”, and the attack will depress the country’s tourist sector. The international community has a vital role to play, boosting the ability of the country’s army and police, helping to seal its southeastern border and providing “substantial” financial support in the form of loans, investment and debt relief.

Western leaders have a “special obligation” to Tunisia. They certainly do, agrees Jason Ditz on antiwar.com. If Tunisia collapses, “the real culprit is Nato”. Its intervention and subsequent neglect in neighbouring Libya played a big “role in turning that huge nation into a lawless train wreck full of jihadist factions, including the one responsible” for this attack.

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