Magharebia (Washington DC)

17 January 2014

Tunisia: Security Main Challenge for Tunisia Transition

Najjar in Tunis — Tunisians on Tuesday (January 14th) celebrated the third anniversary of the revolution amid a political breakthrough but in a climate of insecurity.

But citizens see a ray of light in the new government of technocrats led by Mehdi Jomaa.

"We're starting a new page," Tunis resident Mongia Jrairi says.

People are counting on the change in the political landscape to eliminate the threat of terrorism, and thus restore stability to stimulate growth.

"The success or failure of the national dialogue will have a significant impact on the security situation in Tunisia," Monia Bousalmi, a 33-year-old university professor, tells Magharebia.

"I think by forming a new government, security in Tunisia will improve," Fedia Belkaed, 36, agrees, "but on the condition that the government is independent and not associated with parties on the ground."

In the three years since the fall of the Ben Ali regime, Tunisia has faced a series of setbacks.

Journalist Nabil Chahed tells Magharebia, "I think that the security establishment suffered painful blows after the revolution, especially after polarisation attempts by different political parties and the assassinations of martyrs Belaid and Brahmi."

An outspoken opponent of the Ennahda-led government, Unified Democratic Patriots Party (PPDU) leader Chokri Belaid was assassinated on February 6th.

Another opposition politician - National Constituent Assembly member and Popular Movement (Echaab) party co-ordinator Mohamed Brahmi - was gunned down July 25th.

Their killings, by what the former Ennahda-led government said were Ansar al-Sharia extremists, spurred the months-long political crisis that ended last week with the appointment of the new prime minister.

According to political analyst Anis Ben Rajab Abidi, "Tunisia is still in a state of phobia from the events of the revolution." Trust among the population must be restored, he argues.

"Even if we provide everyone with a guard to ensure his safety, we cannot achieve a sense of security unless the citizen is convinced that his compatriot does not harbour him evil," he says.

Security experts have a different take on the security situation in Tunisia three years after the revolution.

Retired Staff Colonel Mohammed Saleh Hadhri tells Magharebia: "Terrorism in Tunisia spread under the patronage of some political wings inside Ennahda."

"We all remember the incident of [Ansar al-Sharia leader] About Iyadh leaving the El Fath Mosque in front of the eyes of security forces, despite a warrant against him," Hadhri said.

"The situation today has improved. Security elements thwarted a number of terrorist operations. The arrest of Abou Iyadh had a positive impact on the psyche of security forces," he says, "especially for those who suffered losses in terrorist actions carried out by supporters of the Ansar al-Sharia leader."

Other issues still impede the restoration security in Tunisia, says military and terrorism affairs analyst Mazen Cherif.

"Large quantities of arms the terrorists have came from Libya, which is experiencing a state of massive security chaos," Cherif notes.

Terrorist networks are working to recruit youth, "hypnotise them through religious songs, which call for extreme violence and fund them to carry out new terrorist plots", the analyst says.

"It is now clear that terrorist elements have moved from the stage of theory and excommunication to the stage of bombing," Cherif adds. "In Goubellat, Sidi Ali Bou Oun and Menzel Bourguiba, we saw the fall of martyrs from the security forces - the target of these groups."

It is not only experts who see the dangers emanating from across the border with Libya.

The struggle for stability

Lasaad Chaari, 44, tells Magharebia: "Libya lives a catastrophic security situation that could affect Tunisia."

"The trade in arms and terrorists is active in Libya and they can move to Tunisia and this is what scares Tunisians the most," he adds.

While security is the top concern of the Tunisian street, citizens say they are starting to see progress.

Sami Manai, a public servant tells Magharebia: "The security situation in Tunisia improved after the revolution, despite numerous attempts to take us into a state of chaos and perhaps even street clashes."

"This improvement is due to the security and military institutions," he says.

Mourad Rtibim works in the tourism sector, which took a hit from the explosion of violence. He points to his own case as an example of the turnaround.

"The fragile security in Tunisia impacted my life and I stopped working for a while, due to the closure of the tourist unit where I worked. Tourists became averse to coming to Tunisia because of the deteriorating situation," he tells Magharebia.

"Now praise God, things have improved and I have returned to my work. I want to thank the security elements who sacrifice themselves for Tunisia and its people," he adds.

But the recent security improvements are only part of the picture. Many of those who turned out in the capital for the large revolution anniversary rallies on Tuesday said they had yet to see the promised changes.

Moez Adib, 32, a day labourer from El Kef province, complained: "We haven't yet realised the goals for which we revolted."

"We were waiting for development projects and employment, but we only got weapons and terrorism," he said.

"It's true that certain gains have been made on the political front, but they haven't been reflected on popular classes and haven't touched their concerns," he added.

Even President Moncef Marzouki admitted this week in an interview with Al-Wataniya that "three years after the revolution, the country [was] still far from realising the goals for which the martyrs and wounded have sacrificed".

Security analyst Noureddine Ennaifer lays out a possible roadmap. The future of security in Tunisia under the new Jomaa government, he argues, depends on how far the incoming cabinet is willing to go to help local development.

"If we don't achieve development, then we will enter the stage of chaos, due to increasing unemployment, declining standards of living of the middle class and the bankruptcy of institutions," the analyst says.

"This would contribute to terrorist organisations, and to youth living in poverty and marginalisation," he tells Magharebia. He adds, "When development declines, terrorism strengthens, but if development flourishes, then terrorism weakens."

Abdeljalil Belhaj Ali, 37, an employee, says the country must now move forward.

"The January 14th revolution created a quantum leap in our country by ridding it of dictatorship," Ali says. "The important thing now is to keep pursuing the revolution's objectives."

"We're full of hope and optimism," he adds.

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