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

    How Aleppo Rebels Plan to Withstand Assad's Siege

    Rebels in Aleppo are laying plans to withstand a siege by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in likelihood the regime cuts a final main supply line running west of city

    Probe Targeting China's Statistic Head Sparks Concern

    Economists now asking what prompted government to launch an investigation only months after Wang Baoan had been vetted for crucial job

    HRW: Both Sides in Ukraine Conflict Targeted, Used Schools

    Rights group documents how both sides in Ukraine conflict carried out attacks on schools and used them for military purposes

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.