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Salah Eddine al-Jorashi

Tunisia faces a storm but remains strong

Terrorists can harm Tunisia but they cannot get to the hearts of its people [TNA]

Date of publication: 9 March, 2016

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The Tunisian people, despite profound economic and social problems, are still immune to the lure of the jihadi project targeting their state, argues Salah Eddine al-Jorashi.
What has happened in the town of Ben Gardane in Tunisia was not a battle but a war that it set to continue and escalate, until the question of Islamic State's presence in Libya and Tunisia is settled once and for all.

IS poses a growing threat to the Tunisian state. Following a number of specatuclar terror attacks, IS has now stepped up its war on Tunisia, with a bid to establish an Islamic emirate or a base in the border town of Ben Gardane to launch attacks from there on the rest of the nation.

IS, which has become a key player in neighbouring Libya, wants to build an army and then use it to overrun the border. 

The jihadis' ultimate plan is to topple the Tunisian government after activating sleeper cells and launching an insurgency and war of attrition, beginning with groups stationed in the mountains such as Mount Chaambi.

Although this plan requires time, the rapid succession of events in Libya with the Western NATO alliance mulling intervention there, forced the leadership of IS to bring it forward and launch attacks on Tunisian military and police positions.

No doubt, the Tunisian state was able to contain the attack, and restore order. But something else happened in recent days, suggesting IS's project has no future in Tunisia regardless of its military abilities.

When an IS cell was discovered a week ago, and its members were surrounded at a home in Ben Gardane, thousands of locals including youths rallied against them, helping the army and police hunt them down.
On television, there were scenes of unarmed civilians standing behind soldiers, singing the national anthem and cheering them as gun battles erupted with the jihadis.
On television, there were scenes of unarmed civilians standing behind soldiers, singing the national anthem and cheering them as gun battles erupted with the jihadis.

In one surreal scene, a Tunisian 30-year-old man advanced towards the besieged house, chanting patriotic slogans before he was shot dead, leaving behind a wife and two children.

Ben Gardane is situated directly on the border between Tunisia and Libya. It is underdeveloped and neglected, and its population relies mainly on smuggling to make a living.

Its residents rebelled against the Ben Ali regime two years before it fell, when Libya closed the border. Protests there are a regular occurence, because of its ongoing economic and social problems.

The terrorists knew all of this and wanted to exploit it to deepen the gap between the government and citizens. They wanted to create a popular base that supports al-Qaeda and then later IS.

But no doubt, the leaders of these terror groups must have been shocked to see so much popular hostility towards them.

The attempts to destabilise Tunisia will no doubt continue in the coming days and months. However, one thing is also certain: Despite their relative success in recruiting a large number of Tunisians, the terrorists have failed to secure a popular base anywhere on Tunisian soil.

This is nothing to scoff at. Tunisia seems to be still immune to the jihadis' project. 

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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