Parties involved: Tunisian government and security forces, Muslim Brotherhood, Israeli government, European tourists, Jewish pilgrims.
On 09/05/2023 a Tunisian security officer opened fire on colleagues and Jewish pilgrims near a synagogue on the Island of Djerba killing 5 people (3 security officers and 2 Jewish pilgrims). The attacker was then killed by security forces.
Tunisia is a fragile democracy and President Saied has been accused by opposition parties of becoming too authoritarian. One of the recent measures by the President was to crack down on a political party associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical religious and political organization.
On 15/05/2023, Rached Ghannouchi, one of the main opponents of President Saied was sentenced to a year in prison. He is among more than 20 of Saied's political opponents to be arrested since February 2023.
The Jerusalem Post reported that the Israeli government is planning to re-home Tunisian Jews that want to leave the country because of a rise in anti-semitic attacks. There are about 1800 Jews living in Tunisia, with over 5000 Jews visiting the island of Djerba on a yearly pilgrimage.
There is a history of attacks on the Jewish population in Tunisia. On 24/06/2022, two security officers were injured in a knife attack by an assailant near a synagogue in central Tunis. In the past five years, there have been a string of other attacks targeting tourists and security forces across the country which have been linked to radical Islamist organizations or individuals.
There is a large influx of refugees coming from East and Central Africa to Tunisia. This has led to tensions between the Tunisian people and the refugees, who are mostly black Africans. President Saied gained international attention for blaming Sub-Saharan refugees for the rise of crime in the country, which resulted in a significant rise in racist attacks towards them. This has also led to refugees searching for alternative countries or forming groups to defend themselves. When leaving the country, however, refugees face a similar fate in neighboring countries. Libya, Algeria and Morocco are also known to crack down on refugees coming into the country.
Tunisia is a popular tourist destination because of its beautiful beaches and low cost of living. Therefore, Tunisia is heavily reliant on the tourism industry. An uptick in violence towards foreigners has previously led to a crash in this industry, especially after a terrorist attack in the capital Tunis in 2015 and before that, the troubles coming from the Arab Spring in 2011.
Analysis and implications:
The recent attack on Jewish pilgrims on the island of Djerba and the rise in racist attacks on black Africans and Jewish Tunisians has led the Israeli government to make plans to transport any Tunisian Jew that wishes to come to Israel and give them a home there. Because Djerba is a popular tourist destination, such an operation will attract international attention and will highlight safety concerns for other foreigners in the country, especially concerning tourism.
A terrorist attack like the one on 09/05/2023 might encourage other lone wolves or more organized terrorist groups to engage in attacks. It is not unlikely that European tourists may be targeted in these attacks, considering Tunisia is an attractive holiday destination. According to the Tunisian National Tourist Office (O.N.T.T), European tourists dominate the number of overnight stays in Tunisian hotels. However, since security is now focused on Jewish pilgrims due to the most recent attack, European tourists may become easier targets for terrorism.
The political situation in the country is not stable with president Saied taking a more authoritarian stance since he dissolved the Tunisian parliament in July 2021. Human Rights Watch has called attention to the Tunisian government’s moves to systematically silence and dismantle the country’s largest opposition party. This may lead to unrest in the country as seen before during the Arab Spring in 2011 or even terrorist attacks from radicalized muslims who feel like their voice is no longer heard in parliament. Any unrest will also lead to a decline in tourists coming to Tunisia, which in turn will have a significant impact on the economy.
The COVID-19 Pandemic decimated the Tunisian tourism sector whose revenue more than halved between 2019 and 2020, which severely affected the Tunisian economy. Any further instability due to violence is likely to slow the recovery of the tourism industry and its contribution to the Tunisian economy. Security in the country may therefore decline due to unfavorable economic conditions, since a deterioration in the quality of life of the Tunisian population may increase the likelihood of people joining criminal organisations or becoming radicalized.
The influx and subsequent bad treatment of black refugees can also lead to more unrest in the country with refugees organizing groups to defend themselves against racist attacks. might also lead to more refugees trying to take boats to the European mainland which could also destabilize the political situation in the EU due to spillover effects. The sight of refugees getting on boats, clashes between local Tunisians and refugees and possibly even drowned people washing up on the shores may lead to a decline in tourists coming to Tunisia.
The situation in Tunisia is one of declining stability. There is a chance that terrorist attacks on Jewish people and European tourists may increase. With president Saied taking a tougher stance on the political groups aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, tensions may spill from the political arena over into the streets in the form of large protests or even terrorist attacks.
It is advisable to keep an eye on current events and be weary of the changing political landscape in the country. It is also encouraged to think of the security situation for tourists if there is a rise in terrorist attacks in places like Djerba, Tunis or other popular tourist destinations in Tunisia.