News / Africa

Tunisians Fear Growing Threat of Radical Islamists

Supporters of Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia clash with riot police at Hai al-Tadamon in Tunis, May 19, 2013.
Supporters of Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia clash with riot police at Hai al-Tadamon in Tunis, May 19, 2013.
Lisa Bryant
Police in Tunisia fired tear gas to disperse stone-throwing Islamists in two cities after the government banned the hardline Ansar al-Shariah group from staging its annual congress Sunday.  The events underscore the growing clout of Muslim extremists in the once staunchly secular North African country. 

The assassination of secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid in February sparked Tunisia's biggest popular demonstration since its 2011 revolution.  Police blame a Salafist Muslim for his death, underscoring fears Tunisia is entering a new and dangerous chapter in its history.

More recent events have reinforced these concerns. 

Earlier this month, roadside bombs wounded 16 Tunisian soldiers as they tried to hunt down militants in the country's mountainous border with Algeria.  Some Islamists have joined jihadists in Syria and Algeria.  And the country faces growing defiance from Salafists, who have attacked artists and other targets, including the United States embassy last year, as they try to impose their brand of hardline Islam.

Such events were unimaginable in this small nation just a few years ago.  Under authoritarian ex-president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia ranked among the most secular countries in the Arab world and a favorite holiday spot for European tourists.

A former minister during the Ben Ali period, Hatem Ben Salem, is alarmed at what is happening to his country.  Like many critics, he blames the ruling moderate Islamist Ennahda party for failing to crack down on the Salafists.

"The whole country fears that we will engage in a civil war.  And that is why I think the government is now taking things quite seriously... although I think they are responsible for the situation, because they have let these people do what they want... and threaten the country like they do," said Ben Salem.

In the past, Ennahda has argued Tunisia's fledgling democracy must allow for free expression from all parts of society.  The party suffered under Ben Ali.  Many of its members were jailed or went into exile - including Ennahda's spiritual leader, Rachid Ghannouchi.

But in recent weeks, the party has adopted a tougher stance against militant Islam.  Police have clashed with Salafists and authorities banned radical hardline group Ansar al-Shariah from staging its annual meeting in the central city of Kairouan.

In a recent interview on France 24 TV, Ennahda's Ghannouchi condemned all forms of extremism.  But he appeared to downplay the scope of the threat, for example describing a small group of mercenaries as being behind Belaid's assassination.

Concerns of Islamist extremism are not limited to Tunisia. Neighboring Algeria fought a horrific civil war against Islamists in the 1990s.  In January, Algiers crushed an Islamist attack on its In Amenas gas plant; 11 Tunisians figured among the militants.

Concerns are also growing that Islamists routed from Mali are fueling a growing insurgency in Tunisia's other neighbor, Libya.

Former Tunisian minister Ben Salem worries that militant Islam is fast becoming a regional threat in North Africa - and for the international community as a whole.

"They have started in many places, specifically in the south of Algeria and north of Mali.  And now they are in Tunisia and Libya.  They will certainly be on the borders with Egypt.  And it starts like that.  So now we need to react and have a common position," he said.

But economist and opposition politician Mahmoud Ben Romthane does not believe terrorism will take root in Tunisia.

Ben Romthane points to Tunisia's tradition as a moderate nation.  He says Tunisians also know that peace is fundamental to their existence as a nation.  The answer, he says, lies in going forward politically, including ensuring elections scheduled for the end of the year are free and transparent.

Ben Salem believes Tunisia now needs a unity government, joined in the common cause of eradicating Islamist extremism.

You May Like

US Gives Malaysia Questionable Upgrade in Human Trafficking Ranks

Malaysia’s upgrade seen as removing barrier to country’s participation in the US-led 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership More

Turkey, US Try to Establish Buffer Despite Differences

Coalition airstrikes in proposed zone would aim to drive out Islamic extremists, allowing targeted area to come under sway of anti-Assad rebels More

Video US: Millions Exploited by Vast Fortunes of Human Trafficking

State Department's annual report calls exploitation 'modern slavery,' brutalizing girls, women into prostitution and forcing men, women and children into low-wage jobs across the globe More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs