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Terrorism strikes Tunisia again at a time of tourism recovery Open in fullscreen

Alessandra Bajec

Terrorism strikes Tunisia again at a time of tourism recovery

Two explosions rocked the Tunisian capital on Thursday both targeting security positions [Getty]

Date of publication: 28 June, 2019

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The attacks in Tunisia come one day after the four-year anniversary of the Sousse beach attack and at a time when the tourism season just began showing signs of recovery.

Four years after the bloody attack at Sousse beach, a double suicide explosion has hit central Tunis just as Tunisia hoped it had left behind the terrorism spectre and its tourism industry started to shine again.

But on Thursday, twin suicide bomber attacks targeting police struck the Tunisian capital leaving one police officer dead and at least eight people injured, according to the Interior Ministry. One attacker targeted a police patrol in Charles de Gaulle street in downtown Tunis. Moments later, a second bomber blew himself up near the headquarters of the counter-terrorism unit in the city's outskirts. The Islamic State group [IS] said it considers itself responsible for the two separate blasts.

Read more here: Deadly bomb blasts target security forces in Tunisian capital

The bombings came just hours after an armed group targeted a broadcasting station in the province of Gafsa, southern Tunisia, leaving no damage.

As terror shook Tunis, the 92-year-old Tunisian president, Beji Caid Essebsi, was rushed to hospital after a "severe health crisis.

Read also: No 'power vacuum' in Tunisia despite president's death rumours

In a show of defiance, within minutes of the attacks people appeared sitting as usual in open-air cafes up and down Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the heart of the commercial and tourist district.

On the same street, a large crowd of fired up people gathered to send a more vocal message of resistance holding up placards reading "We do not fear terror, Tunisia is no place for terrorism". They chanted the national anthem and slogans promoting freedom and democracy.

A large crowd of fired up people gathered to send a more vocal message of resistance holding up placards reading 'We do not fear terror, Tunisia is no place for terrorism'

In a tense climate, with tight police deployment on Bourguiba Avenue, several Tunisians praised the security forces while others lamented inefficiency on the part of security personnel in failing to avert the incident in what is one of the most heavily protected areas of central Tunis.

"It's unfortunate that such terrorist acts are committed in this delicate phase of democratic transition and while our president is very ill," voiced Rim Thabti, a blogger and activist from the southern city of Gabes.

"It's also happening right at the peak of the tourist season. We're not going to cross our arms and cry for Tunisia. We're here today to stand for our beautiful country and say 'No' to terrorism," she uttered touched by the events. 

People chant slogans against terrorism, as they gathered near the scene of the blast [Getty] 

Tunisia has witnessed multiple terror attacks on its soil, suffering threats to its relative political stability and damaging repercussions for the confidence of tourism industry.

Less than a year ago, in October, a female suicide bomber aiming at a police van struck the city centre, killing only herself and wounding several people. 

In 2015, two deadly attacks at the Bardo Museum in Tunis and at a beach resort in Sousse, again claimed by IS, killed 60 people, dealing a devastating blow to Tunisia's vital tourism sector.

We're not going to cross our arms and cry for Tunisia. We're here today to stand for our beautiful country and say 'No' to terrorism

Travel agencies across Europe abandoned package holidays to the country, governments issued travel warnings, foreign visitor numbers dwindled precariously in the following months.

Tourism has since picked up again after the Tunisian government increased security around popular destinations, and negative travel advice was lifted. Major European tour operators start to return to Tunisia in 2018 with tourist numbers beginning to go back toward the pre-crisis levels, according to the country's tourism minister. The number of foreign visitors rose almost by 45 percent last year.

Revenues from tourism bounced to $1.36 billion in 2018 and Tunisia expects tourist arrivals to reach a record nine million in 2019, based on governmental calculations.

Tourism accounts for around eight percent of Tunisia's gross domestic product so the return of European visitors would help boost the sluggish economy and raise the country's weak foreign currency reserves.

Thursday's bombings came one day after the four-year anniversary since the infamous attack at Sousse beach. They happened at the height of the tourist season for Tunisia, just when tourism business was giving signs of recovery.

Thursday's bombings came one day after the four-year anniversary since the infamous attack at Sousse beach. They happened at the height of the tourist season for Tunisia, just when tourism business was giving signs of recovery

The latest terrorist attack however does not seem to raise big concerns as to a potential impact on the country's tourism, given the small scale of the blast and since it specifically targeted police, not holidaymakers. Similar in to the attack of October 29 in nature and size, yesterday's suicide explosion is likely to knock the country's tourism revival only to some extent.

"At first, foreigners will have worries about visiting Tunisia after what happened. But I think they will come and visit eventually," a young man called Mohamed said while standing in the street.

Hamed Baccar, who runs a travel agency in the city centre, looked unworried. He sees the latest act of terrorism as an attempt to make some noise and upset the state of affairs, with the elections coming in three months and a critically ill president.

Nonetheless, Baccar believes the after-attack effect on the tourism sector will be limited.

"It's annoying, of course, but thankfully tourists were not targeted like in 2015," the travel agent commented.

"The devaluation of the Tunisian dinar also encourages European holidaymakers to choose our country as a top value travel destination in the Mediterranean," he added.

Thabti said to be hopeful about the tourist season arguing that the holiday plans to Tunisia will not be greatly affected even after the shock blast in Tunis thanks to the improved security around major holiday resorts.

"I'm sure there won't be a completely negative backlash. People will still find security in our country," the activist pointed out. "We welcome tourists from everywhere."


Alessandra Bajec is a freelance journalist currently based in Tunis. 

Follow her on Twitter: @AlessandraBajec

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