Tunisia Confronts the Next Phase in Its War Against Jihadi-Salafism

By Haim Malka

Haim Malka is a senior fellow and deputy director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC, where he oversees the program's work on the Maghreb. His principal areas of research include religious radicalization, government strategies to combat extremism, violent non-state actors, and North African politics and security.

Tunisia is on the front lines of an evolving war against Jihadi-Salafism. The ideology espoused by al Qaeda and ISIS, has already drawn thousands of young Tunisians to the battlefields of Syria and Libya. Other adherents have committed numerous terrorist attacks in Tunisia since 2013, killing dozens of people and threatening to derail the country’s progress toward a more representative government after decades of authoritarianism. Now, as the broader fight against ISIS intensifies, Tunisia faces the next phase of its struggle against terrorism: fighters returning from the Jihadi-Salafi battlefields of Syria and Libya.

The problem is especially sensitive for Tunisia as it attempts to balance the need for effective security and counterterrorism with respect for basic rights enshrined in its constitution. While Tunisia’s security capabilities have improved, this next phase of the battle will not be won by military force alone. It will require an effective strategy to address the wide spectrum of grievances that drive radicalism combined with a serious dialogue mechanism to engage those who have returned and delegitimize Jihadi-Salafi ideology.  As a state on the front line of the battle against Jihadi-Salafism, Tunisia’s choices and strategy to confront this evolving threat will have widespread ramifications for its own political stability and security as well as the global fight against al Qaeda and ISIS.

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