Since the 2011 revolution, Tunisia has been consumed by a struggle between liberals and the moderate majority Nahda Islamist party as the country moves to finalize a new constitution and prepare for elections. But, as in other Arab states in transition, dealing with the more radical Islamists, the puritanical Salafis, poses the biggest challenge to any form of democracy.
Tunisia’s secularists view a strict, austere Islam as alien to the country’s relatively open and moderate culture, as well as devastating towards the wealth-creating tourist industry. But the Salafis deploy much-needed social welfare programs to attract young Tunisians for whom Nahda is insufficiently Islamist and insufficiently successful in terms of job-creation.
Tunisia has become a fertile environment for radical fundamentalism. Weapons from the poorly-handled revolution in Libya have found their way to Tunisia and jihadi fighters have holed up in a region on the border with Algeria. Moreover, the civil war in Syria has attracted recruits from north Africa, including many Tunisians. Hardened jihadists eventually return to their homeland and turn their guns onto their own governments. Tunisia could easily become yet another welcoming watering hole for al-qaeda terrorists.
All this was entirely predictable when the Arab Spring began. Foolish Western governments that ignored trusted allies and fostered revolutions that brought them down, will suffer long-term for such short-sighted betrayals.
Hat Tip: ‘War within Islam’, Financial Times, May 22, 2013