Jihadist groups continue to exert their presence in Tunisia

(Photo courtesy of Tunisia Live*)

Last month, blogger and Jihadist expert Aaron Zelin, highlighted the growing Jihadi movement in Tunisia, which has organized an aid caravan to areas in Tunisia affected by unseasonably cold weather. This weekend, yet more actions by extremist groups are causing concern for the government and citizens alike.

On Friday, the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia was targeted for a protest by Salafist activists. According to Tunisia Live:

Approximately 200 Islamist demonstrators gathered in front of the American Embassy today, to denounce U.S. foreign policy as it pertains to the Muslim world. The demonstrators brandished black and white flags emblazoned with the shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith, raised posters bearing the picture of Osama Bin Laden, and set fire to the American flag.

Meanwhile, Al-Akhbar, a Lebanese newspaper, has a rather alarming report on Tunisia becoming a destination for more violent Jihadists.

On February 1, the Tunisian army clashed with members of an extremist jihadi group near the town of Bir Ali Ben-Khalifa in the south of the country, killing two and arresting one, after they wounded four members of the security forces.

The incident highlighted the activities of arms-smuggling networks operating out of Libya, where unknown quantities of weapons have proliferated since the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. The area around the Nafusa Mountains near the Tunisian border has become “the biggest weapons arsenal in Africa,” one high-ranking Libyan security source told Al-Akhbar.

Conditions are seen as ripe for al-Qaeda mobilization in post-revolutionary Tunisia, where social peace risks being shattered by various forms of ideological coercion. This has been most obvious in the influence of Salafi groups. It has grown greatly in universities and working-class neighborhoods since the iron fist of the dictatorship, which had previously reined them in, was released by the revolution.

Young Salafi men have now assumed control of the Tunisian street. In recent months there has been a sharp escalation in various acts of provocation, violence, and harassment committed by Salafis.

*This article originally attributed the photo to another source. This photo comes courtesy of Tunisia Live.

5 thoughts on “Jihadist groups continue to exert their presence in Tunisia

  1. Thank you for this post. These concerns seem to have been increasing over the last several months. I remember some alarming remarks by several of my Tunisian friends following the university events or Occupy Bardo and the role of more outspoken, physically forceful Salafists. But equally, not all Salafists are violent or would ever resort to violence.

    What is your personal perception of the situation? If there is concern for an increase in possibly violent radicalization, what do you see as the way forward for a more peaceful consensus?

    • The point that not all Salafists are violent is extremely important to note. In fact, both the Tunisian press and the Western press have been guilty of equating violent jihadism, salafism, and religious fundamentalism. While they often share the same language, they are certainly not the same.

      Personally, it’s disturbing to see anti-American protesters carrying pictures of Osama Ben Laden. I think that many fundamentalists are testing the boundaries of political and religious discourse to see how far the society will allow them to go. At the same time, I think many of the Salafi protesters are driven more by a will to belong to a movement that accepts them, as opposed to an underlying religious fundamentalism. I think the fact that the Ministry of Religious affairs seems to be taking the issue more seriously is an important step toward creating the boundaries of appropriate civil discourse. At the same time, a lot of the positions of Salafi groups like Hizb al-Tahrir are diametrically opposed to pluralism and/or democracy – so opening up dialogue seems like an exercise in futility at best, and possibly quite dangerous, at worst.

  2. Pingback: Secular extremists the new buzzword on the Tunisian right | Kefteji

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