In the aftermath of the Arab spring, Tunisians had the ambition to establish a sound democracy and sought to achieve their long-awaited goals after decades of tyranny and dictatorship.
Toppling Ben Ali was considered as the first major chapter in the Tunisian spring. Nevertheless, a close look at the current political situation in Tunisia is not reassuring. The Tunisian spring proved to be not very rosy as it was expected to be. Some commentators think that it is natural for the collapse of violent and deep-rooted regimes to leave behind chaos and disappointment.
Since the fall of Ben Ali regime in January 2011, violence has been on the rise in Tunisia.
Some analysts warned that the vacuum left by the previous ousted president would open space for Al-Qa’ida to appear and even potentially to take over in government similar to the 1979 Iranian Revolution scenario. In societies such as Tunisia, religion was suppressed at the hands of a dictatorial government; hence, the newly gained freedom has created new opportunities for individuals to organize at the local level, including non-violent political Salafists who sympathize with intellectual aspects of jihadist ideology.
In fact, far from being a monolithic group of highly organized extremists, Tunisia’s Salafists are a loose grouping of religiously right-wing individuals whose identities and motivations require far closer scrutiny.
The emergence of “Salafism” as a political category is in itself a very recent development in Tunisia.
Before the January 2011 Revolution, Tunisia’s Salafists seemed virtually invisible and almost entirely apolitical.
During Ben Ali’s regime, both moderate and militant Islamists were imprisoned, forced underground, or driven into exile.
Ansar Al-Shariaa is among the Salafi groups whose activities become increasingly public after the Revolution, and more precisely, since April 2011 . Since that date, the group started holding rallies and creating Facebook pages which garnered the attention of many Jihadists.
Undoubtedly, Ansar Al-Shariaa group is the product of the new openness in Tunisian society and it marks the rise of Salafi movements which may create challenges for Western states who want to establish diplomatic relations with the new representatives in transitional Arabic countries.
The demonstrations against the film Persepolis and June’s riots at an art exhibition at El Ebdeliya Palace in La Marsa along with the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Tunis and corresponding attacks on the nearby American Cooperative School have cast sharp light on the Salafists allegedly responsible for the deeds. Media accounts quickly depicted the protesters as “fanatic Salafists”.
“Salafism” in Tunisia refers to a broad umbrella of religiously conservative social movements. The Tunisian press and political commentators continue to regularly employ the term “Salafism” as a convenient by-word for “bearded youths whose rage is not understood”.
In Tunisia both Salafists and secularists have very little contact with each other .For Tunisian secularists, Salafists are violent and radical people bent on destabilizing Tunisia. Rumors that young Salafists are being paid by Saudi or “ wahabi” sheikhs abound. Secularists tend to blame Ennahdha for taking an overly soft approach to Salafi extremism. Some of them even feel that Ennahda may actually be in alliance with the Salafists, They think that the party failed to stand up for “Tunisian values,” which they often define as freedom of artistic expression, openness, and moderation.
Though Ennahdha and the salafist Islamic orientations seem to be overlapped for some people, the two movements are in fact distinct and often at loggerheads.
On the other side, Salafi youths perceive Tunisian secularists to be tools of the French and they feel unrepresented by Ennahdha party. They even tend to share secularists’ rage against Ennahdha, blaming the party for failing to stand up for “Tunisian values,” which Salafists generally define as sharia-based Islam.
It has been reported that an undetermined number of Tunisian among “Jihadist salafis” are dropping to Syria to fight against ”the heretic and miscreant” regime of Bachar Al-Asad who, according to them, is killing Sunni Muslims mercilessly.
The event that casted a sharp light on the salafist community is the assassination of the prominent secularist politician Chokri Belaid. This event has thrown Tunisia into its worst crisis since the January14 ouster of President Ben Ali. Though culprits have not yet been identified, suspicions turned swiftly to individuals with ties to Salafi movements. Many secularists see ample evidence of the danger Salafism embodies.
In the absence of an appropriate answer by authorities and the dominant Islamist party, violence and all its shades continued to threat the country’s security and people’s safety.
In the first of May 2013, Tunisia witnessed the occurrence of a tragic and uncommon crime which is the slain of a Police Commissioner Mohamed Sboui by a group of Salafists jihadists who were “hanging out, thieving and stealing to fund candidates for jihad in Syria”- as indicated in the judicial inquiry-.
Mohamed Sboui was killed in Jbal Jloud, a popular area in the south of Tunis, his dead body was abused by the offenders who lately confessed and admitted their crime. According to the offenders’ revelations, Mohamed Sboui was slaughtered remorselessly just because of his belonging to the police staff which is considered by those extremists as an indecent and blasphemous sector “taghout” in their terms. Therefore killing him is a part of their mission which is” slaughtering the infidels”.This event drew more attention towards Salafists considered as a suspicious group.
On July 25 of the same bloody year, Tunisia witnessed its second political assassination in less than six months. Mohamed Brahmi - a leftist politician and Constituent Assembly member – was shot dead outside his home in the al-Ghazala neighborhood of Tunis.
Brahmi’s assassination was considered as an act of terrorism timed for maximum chaotic impact. It came on the Republic Day, an annual celebration marking Tunisia’s foundation as an independent republic. It came just one day before Tunisia’s Interior Ministry was set to release information pinpointing the identity of those chiefly responsible for assassinating Chokri Belaid, the prominent leftist leader similarly gunned down outside his home on February 6.
Presidential spokesman Adnene Mansar called the incident a “heinous crime” and urged Tunisians not to fall into a “trap of discord“.
The head of Nidaa Tounes, the main Tunisian opposition party, blamed the government and accused it of being responsible for the murder of Mohamed Brahmi, saying: “If the government had disclosed the identity of Chokri Belaid’s murderers, we would have not reach this dangerous bleeding curve“. “There has been no serious prosecution and this has encouraged criminals to re-offend,” said Beji Caid Essebsi.
On July 29, and four days after Brahmi’s killing, an army squad has been ambushed at Chaambi Mountain. This tragic attack comes at a very delicate moment as the government is trying to defuse the political crisis caused by the assassination of opposition figure Mohammad Brahmi.
Regarding to the rising political tensions and escalation of violence and terrorism in Tunisia, most Tunisians believe that their freedom and security are threatened. Their confidence in the new elected government and the dominant Islamic party Ennahda is lessening subsequently. The flagrant greed for power and the same corrupt methods known in Ben Ali’s days still exist so far.
With all this being said, I see no real or moral difference between outlaw terrorist groups in the Arab world and the so-called legitimate Arab governments, the line separating them is nonexistent. All Arab and most Islamic governments rule by criminal means, the courts are corrupt, the police and the judiciary cooperate in arresting, torturing, exiling, and killing anyone opposing the government.
The problem for some oppressed fanatic Islamists is that the only means available to them for changing the situation is to adopt the very methods that their governments use to suppress them; violence, legalized theft, and outright murder. And even worse, when the radical and fundamentalist Arab and Islamic terror groups manage to overthrow their oppressors, they too adopt the very methods to rule that they claimed to be fighting against when they were oppressed.
What we are facing in Tunisia, Egypt and almost the rest of the Arabic world is dreadful, no matter who is in charge; all they do is oppressing the population and imposing on them their stereotypical beliefs. Concerning the western states, the US and Europe mainly, all what they do is supporting and allying with whichever Arab or Islamic dictator who happens to be in charge at any given time, thus alienating the common Arab and Islamic citizens. Overall their major interest is guaranteeing the commercial exchange and establishing their alleged diplomatic relations with the new representatives in transitioning Arabic world.
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