Saturday, 25 July 2015

Tunisia: government crackdown misses source of terror

Submitted to Green Left Weekly for publication.

The Tunisian government has responded to the June 26 terror attack at the Imperial Marhaba hotel in Sousse with increased security measures and a crackdown on unlicensed mosques preaching ‘venom’.

The attack on the beachside resort was targeted at foreign tourists; none of the 38 killed were Tunisians. Seifeddine Rezgui, the gunman, accessed the beach from the ocean, before storming through the hotel’s lobby.

"Rezgui had training in Libya at the end of 2014. He was trained during the same time in Libya as the Bardo attackers," prime ministerial spokesman Dafer Neji told Reuters.

After escaping from the hotel, Rezgui was confronted by a local construction worker, Mayel Moncef, who threw tiles at him from a neighbouring rooftop where he was working. After this, the police intervened, shooting Rezgui dead.

"All I did was my duty, the duty of any Tunisian and any Muslim," Moncef told Channel 4 news.

In response to the attack, solidarity marches were held in Sousse and throughout Tunisia. Two days later, hundreds of activists joined victims’ families and offical figures on the beach where the attack had taken place, laying flowers.

The Tunisian government’s response, however, has been increasing securitisation of the issue of terrorism. The BBC has reported that army reservists will be called up to guard popular tourist hotels, while hundreds of police have already been mobilised.

New anti-terror legislation will also be rushed through the parliament in response to the attacks. Mohamed Ennaceur, speaker of the parliament, vowed that the new legislation, which has been under debate for months, will be passed ‘by July 25’ to radio station Mosaique FM.

The new legislation will reintroduce the death penalty, undermine due process for suspects or those convicted of terror-related charges, and allow extended detention – hallmarks of the Ben Ali regime.

Even more worryingly, Prime Minister Habib Essid, an independent associated with the ex-regime Nidaa Tounes party, has vowed to close 80 unlicensed mosques. 

Essid said: “Some mosques continue to spread their propaganda and their venom to promote terrorism. No mosque that does not conform to the law will be tolerated.”

Naturally, this has been welcomed by Europe’s Islamaphobic right. Roberto Maroni, the governor of Lombardy and a member of Italy’s Right-wing Northern League party, responded by saying: "If Tunisia has closed some mosques, it means that it is a road that we have to consider and also follow,” the Telegraph reported on June 30.

“So I hope that the interior ministry and the government do not bow to ideologies of any kind, and focus instead on the safety of citizens and eventually, if necessary, on the closing of the mosques."

The logic of this repressive response, however, does not get to the real origins of terrorism.
Tunisian tennis player, Malek Jaziri, told reporters at Wimbledon “"It happens when more people are poor. I don't know how they do it but [terrorist organisations] infect them."

"The most important thing is we need help in order to protect, to give confidence to Tunisian people. We are all the same and we are against terrorism,” he said.

Rezgui was from Gaafour, a town in Tunisia’s impoverished interior region of Siliana that have seen serious unrest since 2011, including general strikes in 2012 over unemployment and lack of development that saw the regional governorsacked.

President Beji Caid Essebsi, leader of Nidaa Tounes, told French radio station Europe 1 that combatting terrorism is difficult because "Tunisia has not the financial resources to pay 2,000 euros to each unemployed," referring to sums of money granted to "youths recruited by the Islamic State."

Essebsi served as President in the aftermath of Ben Ali’s overthrow while elections were organised for the Constituent Assembly. Prior to that, he had been a statesman under the previous dictatorship of Habib Bourguiba. 

His party leads the government which has taken office since February. After winning 86 seats in the 217 seat parliament in last October’s elections, Nidaa Tounes eventually formed a coalition with the moderate Islamist party Ennahda, which has previously held government, as well as liberal parties the Free Patriotic Union (UPL) and Afek Tounes.

Of the parties of the previous “Troika” government, which ruled through general strikes and the assassination of two Popular Front trade union leaders, Ennahda fared best in the October elections. Both of their “liberal” partners, Ettakatol and the Congress for the Republic, lost almost all representation in the parliament.

The Popular Front, a united left formation that functions both electorally and in social struggle, was the largest party left out of the government, holding 15 seats.

Now Hamma Hammami, a leader in the Popular Front, is criticising the government’s response to the June 26 attack, telling Le Monde that: “a genuine strategy against terrorism must also incorporate social, economic, regional, cultural and religious aspects,” and “not just security ones.”

Poverty has remained unchanged since the days of the Ben Ali dictatorship. The latest National Institute of Statistics figures show poverty at 24.7%, while United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation data shows 1.287 million Tunisians suffer from undernourishment, and 1.928 million suffer from severe and chronic difficulties in meeting their organic needs.

Despite this, a World Bank document on poverty in Tunisia currently being prepared recommends more of the same economic medicine for Tunisia – and argues for restructuring of public banks, and “great cooperation” of the public & private sector – typical neoliberal language for partial privatisation, reported All Africa on June 3.

Without a government providing real solutions these kinds of issues, the political vacuum which has bred radicalism will remain, even now that parliamentary democracy has been established in the nation where the Arab Spring began.