In January 2011 Tunisia witnessed the birth of the Arab Spring. After 22 years of tyranny under the rule of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali the people of this country in the North of Africa took to the streets to start a revolution against their leader in the hope of liberal democracy.
Unlike just about every other country which revolted against its leader that year Tunisia was a success story; against all the odds it was able to transfer power from the rule of a single totalitarian leader to the people who were able to vote in free and fair elections.
Few expected that Tunisia’s first democratic elections, held in October 2011, would be open and free. Pippa Norris, a professor at Harvard University who is one of the leading political commentators on electoral malpractice has argued that ‘transitional’ elections to democracy are often undermined by “fraud and challenges [to] the legitimacy of the outcome”. However, Tunisia defied the odds and held very successful elections with minimal examples of any electoral malpractice and were praised by institutions all over the world for the professionalism of the ballot.
Writing a new ‘democratic’ constitution and holding a second set of successful elections since this date, it now seems clear that Tunisia have been successful in making this transition to liberal democracy. Despite the failure of Egypt, Syria and other neighbouring states, Tunisia has achieved what it set out to do when the people first took to the streets four and a half years ago.
However, with the growth of ISIS and their terror attacks across the globe Tunisia has now twice since Christmas witnessed the cruelty and brutality terrorism. Just three month ago a lone gunman walked into a museum in the country’s capital, Tunis, and open fired, killing both civilians and tourists. The attack was a shock to the country that had lived so peacefully since its liberation in late 2011 and threatened to ruin the tourism industry which was quickly recovering after the revolution. Yet the attack was seen as a one off and the country managed to continue with its normal life.
Then, just last week another attack occurred. An attack that will have sent a clear signal to both the people and the government of Tunisia that they are not yet safe from the threat of terrorism which is thriving in nearby states. On Friday 26th June, Seifeddine Rezgui, a 23 year old student walked down a beach full of tourists who were enjoying sunbathing under the hot African sun and started to shoot them down, one by one.
So far the death toll lies at 38, with 18 British nationals confirmed dead, although that figure is expected to rise above 30. The attack will be sure to set back the country’s tourism industry and as a result ruin any sense of normality for those living in the country. In an attempt to reassure citizens of the country President Beji Caid Essebsi has announced his government is “determined to take the most painful measures to deal with an even more painful scourge” and has already shut down a number of mosques believed to be teaching extremist ideas.
One year ago it looked like Tunisia may be nearing the end of its transition to a peaceful liberal democracy. Now it is clear that there is still a long way to go before the country finishes its journey.
In its strive for normality Tunisia must make sure that it does not get driven into a battle that it cannot win. Three months ago after the museum attack the people of Tunis brushed themselves down and moved on refusing to let terrorists a place a reign of fear over the their citizens or government. While it is now seems clear that Tunisia cannot just ignore these attacks, it must also ensure that it does not get drawn into the bloodbaths of the other Arab Spring countries and let its new found political freedom suffer thanks to the work of a few Islamic terrorists.