Tunisia was less subject to militant violence than other nations in the region that took part in the Arab Spring uprisings, like neighboring Libya. However, it has not been immune to it. The Tunisian area seemed to be in a phase of political, economic and social recovery after the first free presidential election occurred on 6 February 2015, whose winner was the new Prime Minister Habib Essid.
Essid, who served as interior minister under Ben Ali, was selected after an agreement among political parties in the newly elected congress; according to the Agence France-Presse, Mohamed Ennaceur, the vice president of the ruling Nidaa Tounes party declared: “Essid is an independent figure, who has skills and experience in the economic and security fields”.
However, even Tunisia was victim of a terrorist attack, which affected one of the principal Tunisian touristic attractions on the last 18 March 2015. Author of this unexpected attack was a group of gunmen who killed 23 people visiting the Bardo Museum, a jewel of Tunisian heritage in Tunis. The Prime Minister called it “a cowardly terrorist attack mainly targeting the economy of Tunisia”. In addition, he stated: “We should unite to defend our country”.
It was last Monday that Selma Ellouni Rekik, Minister of the Tunisian tourism, said to many tourists: “Tunisia is a safe place which can be quietly visited. Certainly, the Libyan situation does not help us, but our boundaries are impervious in front of any attempts of infiltration. There is no security problem in Tunisia. Everything is under control”. However, the Tunisian situation seemed to be very different on 18 March 2015.
“During the attack, Tunisian security forces killed two attackers when the hostage ended at the Bardo Museum in Tunis”, Prime Minister Habib Essid said. However, it was not enough to save the life of 23 people, including 18 tourists. Italian, German, Spanish and Polish tourists are among the victims. At that time the main question was: “Who is behind the attack?”. A Tunisian jihadist tweeted that a pledge of allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was coming soon. The SITE Intelligence Group declared this statement.
This terrible attack was the first one occurred inside a tourist site in Tunisia after the efforts taken by the previous unsteady democracy to keep violence at bay. This was the situation since the Jasmine Revolution of 2011 that marked the beginning of the Arab Spring. The event could be considered a threat to the political and military security in Tunisia. Hence, it was one of the reasons why the Tunisian government has decided to delay the opening of the Bardo Museum after this cruel terrorist attack.
Therefore the Tunisian government requested to strengthen the safeguard of every touristic area in all the national territory. In addition, it advised the public institutions to provide themselves with efficient security systems. Other commitments regarded the consolidation of the surveillance in more sensitive areas, like the central and suburban organizations, about security and military institutions with the aim to ensure a better coordination. At the end, the government decided to close every mosque without authorization. In addition, the Prime Minister argued that the government determined that the achievement of the measures taken would be periodically monitored by the “crisis cell” against terrorism, established by the already mentioned Prime Minister Habib Essid. Consequently, control could often be exercised for the security situation in the country and make instant decisions when needed.
At this time, the Tunisian government declares war on terrorism. There is the need for all military, security and judiciary institutions to be active in order to join efforts. Moreover, it was inevitable to refer to the Libyan crisis, by promising a further strengthening of control along the national boundaries, even with physical barriers.
In Europe, Matteo Renzi, the Italian Prime Minister, condemned the attack, given also the involvement of Italian tourists. In fact, the Prime Minister called it a dreadful act that hurt unarmed people without the respect for human life. Renzi continued his speech expressing closeness to the Tunisian government on behalf of the Italian population. The prime minister was followed by Paolo Gentiloni, Minister of Foreign Affairs in Italy, declaring a reaction of surveillance, firmness and closeness to the Tunisian population. The Minister also asked for a reinforcement of the resolution against the terrorist threat. Both the United States and the European Union also condemned this terrible attack.
From the European Union has come today the decision to strengthen its cooperation with Tunisia to fight terrorism through a political dialogue, but also with concrete projects in order to broadly support the security sector. European Union has encouraged Tunisia to adopt a policy and some measures aiming at reforming the security sector, especially the police force in the management of the borderline. With the support of the European Union, the Tunisian government seems to be ready to fight terrorism and to fortify its political and military force for the safety of the entire Tunisian population.
One particular event that particularly demonstrated a certain determination among Tunisian people to destroy terrorism was the anti-terrorist march held in Tunis on 29 March 2015. The demonstration started from Bab Saadoun and demonstrators reached the Bardo museum, the place of the terrorist attack. Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets of Tunis for this anti-terrorism march, waving Tunisian flags and helping up slogans, such as “Not Afraid” and “We Are Bardo” as they marched, surrounded by a heavy security presence. Even the French President Francois Hollande and other world leaders took part in the ceremony at the museum.
As well as the French leader, Matteo Renzi and other foreign personages attended the ceremony at the museum where a stone tablet was dedicated to the memory of the victims of the attack. During the demonstration, the Tunisian Prime Minister announced that the Tunisian armed forces killed the third terrorist, Khaled Chaib, who was responsible for the attack to the Bardo museum.
This anti-terrorism event showed a moment of international union. The activist Ben Hazem told BBC: “Terrorism is an international phenomenon, not a Tunisian one. I think there should be solidarity and unity between us to fight terrorism”. This event, as well as Hazem’s statement, suggests the attempt of many international countries to support and help each other against terrorism.
Master’s degree in Languages and Cultures for International Communication and Cooperation (University of Milan)