Terrorism and Anti-Terrorism as Threats to Tunisian Democracy

Tunisian Parliamentary building as seen from inside the Bardo Museum. Photo by Berenike Schott.

After yesterday’s terrorist attack on the Tunisian parliament and adjacent Bardo museum in Tunis that killed at least 23 people and left as many wounded, the Tunisian people are expressing grief, worry, and courage all at once. They mourn the dead, are deeply worried about the meaning of the attack for the country’s future, yet also show resilience in the face of the terrorist threat.

Yesterday evening, the members of the Tunisian legislative branch returned to parliament to hold an extraordinary plenary session while civil society leaders from Al Bawsala returned to the site of the attack in order to live tweet the debate to the wider public.

Meanwhile, a large number of citizens gathered in the city center to express support for the country and defiance of the attempted intimidation by terrorists. Representatives from both Ennahda, the Islamist party, and Nidaa Tounes, the party of President Beji Caid Essebsi, furthermore condemned the terrorist acts and called for unity. All of these are important signs of political will and individual risk-taking for the sake of defending the country’s recent democratic gains since the 2011 revolution that sparked the so-called Arab Spring.

Tunisia, thus far, is the sole country that has been successful in defending the gains of its Jasmine Revolution. Yet, while the resolve to stand united against terrorism across party divisions is crucial, the President’s announcement of a war on terror and the extermination of savage minority groups committing terrorist acts is at the same time worrying. Over the past few years, the Middle East and North Africa region has seen a resurgence of authoritarianism in the face of violent extremism that has undermined prospects for democratic change and the protection of civil liberties.

Even before yesterday’s attack, state practices under the banner of anti-terrorism were already considered a considerable threat to civil liberties due to the application of the penal code to journalists and bloggers who could be charged with defaming the military or writing an “apology of terrorism.”.

President Essebsi yesterday promised that democracy will win and survive in Tunisia. Now will be the moment for him and the other leaders of this country to show not only unity against terrorism but also unity for the defense and protection of civil liberties. Leaders around the world should support them in both of these quests.


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