Maghreb Voices – Tunisian Days III

Same Crazy Kitchen, Just Different Cooks

“Comme aux pires moments de la colonization. Mais cette fois, la colonization est interne.”
~Soufiane Ben Farhat, La Presse de Tunisie, 24 October 2013

“By time, indeed, mankind is in loss, except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.”
[Quran, Surat Al-Asr]

Tunisians often ask me what I think of Tunisia. My response usually goes something like this: ?I love Tunisia. I don’t love what Tunisia is doing to you Tunisians,? to which I receive somber nods and downcast eyes.

A recent study marked Tunisians as the unhappiest people in the Middle East. The jubilant anthem of the Jasmine Revolution was followed by a blues song. You can see it in their eyes, hear it in their conversations, and witness it in businesses and cafes; there’s a dark cloud blocking out the Mediterranean sun, a ?why bother? attitude that runs the gamut from apathy to surliness to desperation.

The Lurking Dragon

The interim ruling party, Ennahda, which appeared at first to have been a moderate Islamic party, has revealed a salient weakness?if it truly is weakness and not covert cooperation?in its dealings with the country’s biggest enemy, terrorists. This, coupled with a perceived effort to monopolize power and an unfinished (and democratically lackluster) constitution has lead to a loud call for this government’s resignation.

Ben Ali, the second President of Tunisia, is gone, having taken with him his corruption, excess, and worldliness. But now that the boulder has been moved aside we can better see the lurking dragon: a network of zealous Islamists with an appalling lack of respect for the teachings of Islam.

Down: Leaders, National Guard, and Police

Since the revolution, Tunisia has witnessed the assassinations of two liberal leaders and Tunisian security forces have lost more than 25 members to terrorist attacks that also wounded over a hundred more. Eight of these murders occurred in the last few days. All attributed, so far, to Salafist extremists.

Security forces have been fighting a losing battle trying to control the terrorism menacing the country. The information network that enabled Ben Ali to remain mostly on top of the Islamists is now dismantled, leaving police and soldiers at times woefully unprepared. In the current economy, the resources necessary to launch a successful crackdown just aren’t there.

Sexual Jihad

Unemployment, ignorance, and hopelessness have left many young women prey to an atrocious proposition: serve God by providing physical satisfaction to Syrian jihadists.

The Ministry of the Interior has recently succeeded in stopping 6,000 young women from going to join the jihadists in Syria. Unfortunately, countless before them were recruited, with the aid of brainwashing and dollar-waving, as part of a ?sacred? mission to provide sexual favours to jihadists.

Many of these girls are returning pregnant to Tunisia, a country that doesn’t tolerate out-of-wedlock births. Ennahda has promised to help them but one must question any such promises coming from a country that doesn’t have the resources to aid these girls in raising their children.

How does this happen? Raised in a country that frowns on bare arms and public romantic displays, how is a girl talked into servicing Islamists in a foreign country? How is her brother talked into planting a bomb in an elementary school? The answer I get is always the same: the young have no future and are easily persuaded, while the terrorists are brilliantly persuasive.


The accusation that rings in the media and in the mouths of the more savvy citizens is that Ennahda has, at best, failed to provide security forces the resources they need to protect the people from terrorism. At worst, it is deliberately giving free rein to the terrorists to foster instability they can exploit for more power.

If the terrorists ever carried a scent of glamour, It’s gone rancid. The growing unrest in the streets is fearless and adamant. Protests are populated by Tunisians of all ages?some obviously traditional Muslims, some not. they’re angry at the deaths of guards and police. Guards and police who also happen to be their family members, friends, and neighbors. Maybe Ennahda believes the instability is exploitable, but the people look pretty stable to me, and I don’t think that at this point they’ll be easily cowed into submission.

Fight Smarter, Not Harder

As much as the West may live in fear of Islamist terrorist attacks, the threat of terrorism within Middle Eastern countries, Muslim against Muslim, is far greater.

Islamophobia has somehow persuaded the West to withhold aid to Middle Eastern countries living under the threat of domestic terrorism. But helping Tunisians to fight smart and providing security forces with logistics experts and adequate resources (medical care, technology training, and safety?not weapons) can only help us. The alternative is to watch the downward spiral, and it won’t be pretty.

?Tunisie : Nouveau report du dialogue national sur fond de troubles s├ęcuritaires,? Jeune Afrique, 24 October 2013
Abdellaoui, M.H., ?Soudain, la stupeur et la colere . . .? La Presse de Tunisie, 24 October 2013
Ben Farhat, Soufiane ?La Tunisie martyre,? , La Presse de Tunisie, 24 October 2013
S.D. ?Un tribute trop lourde,? La Presse de Tunisie, 24 October 2013
Zogby, James, ?Arab Spring: Alive and Well in Tunisia,?

The third part of Wanda Waterman’s series exploring Tunisia, this article was first published in issue no. 41, on November 1, 2013. It was selected because it combines the views of Tunisia and terrorism that may be familiar from the news with those of the people who actually live there and are experiencing the problems. It lets us see that underneath the news exist real people who attempt to live normal lives while the news carries on around them.