Why The Jihadists Fear Tunisia

The biggest threat to murderous Islamists are Muslims who believe in democracy.

In a file photo, Tunisians rally for freedom of expression.
In a file photo, Tunisians rally for freedom of expression.


PARIS — Tunisia represents everything jihadists hate. Without a doubt, this is what drove the attack Wednesday in the heart of the capital that killed 19 people, 17 of them foreign tourists, and wounded 40 others.

No, Tunisia is not just any target. Its exemplary nature is simply intolerable for the followers of this bloodthirsty totalitarianism that we call jihadism.

The country and what it represents are a threat to them. It’s the “counter-model” that must be brought down. Tunisia proves that democracy and Islamic culture are perfectly compatible — a concept that is completely unacceptable for jihadists.

It shows that a Muslim country can adopt a modern Constitution that grants women the same rights as men — unbearable for those barbarians, whose manliness is so easily threatened.

Tunisia embodies an ancient kind of humanism it inherited through a history that dates back to antiquity, and mixes a multitude of cultural influences to the best effect — unthinkable for the terrorists who claim to act in the name of Islam but are actually incapable of expressing themselves differently than by squeezing the trigger of a Kalashnikov, preferably aimed at civilians.

Together with the economy, which relies heavily on tourism, those are the values that were targeted (knowingly or not) in Tunis’ Bardo neighborhood, when two terrorists opened fire on tourists getting off of a bus at the city's main archeological museum.

Symbolically, the Bardo area is home to both Tunisia’s best-known museum and the country's parliament. The killers chased down the tourists even inside the museum. “They were shooting at anything that moved,” a witness later said. The terror lasted four hours, before police officers killed the two attackers and arrested a third one.

In Tunisia there is an Islamist circle that is becoming increasingly active in the shape of a guerilla in the mountains of Western Tunisia, along the border with Algeria. But these men usually target the army; Tunisia had never witnessed a terrorist attack of this scope against civilians.

According to the police, the two assailants were 20-year-old Tunisians. Part of Tunisia’s youth is attracted to jihadism and its deadly rhetoric: several thousands of young Tunisians are believed to be currently fighting with ISIS or other Islamist groups in Syria and Iraq, and 500 more are thought to have returned.

The country’s unrest also comes from the East, where Tunisia is feeling the blast of the chaos that is tearing Libya apart.

In this troubled environment, Tunisians have all the more merit for pushing ahead with a democratic transition that remains unique in the Arab world. They are the ones who in 2011 triggered the movement we ended up calling the “Arab Spring.” They overthrew a corrupt autocrat, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, and since then, one free election at a time, have been instilling the values of democracy in their institutions.

Tunisians are a clear rebuttal to those who swear that Arabs can only ever have the choice between two types of governments: military dictatorship or Islamist tyranny. We need to help them. One way to do that is to not cancel our holiday trips to Tunisia.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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