Geopolitics

The Next Revolution: Islamists In Tunisia Take Their Jihad To Syria

A trip to Tunis's slums finds young Salafi Islamists who were at the vanguard of the Arab Spring, and are now set to take the fight to Syria to take down the ruling secularist regime.

After the Arab Spring, the Islamist Summer (Magharebia)
After the Arab Spring, the Islamist Summer (Magharebia)
Domenico Quirico


TUNIS – Just a few blocks from the hotels, the restaurants, and the government offices, Balancine is a labyrinth filled with piles of garbage and stray dogs. Teenage boys are lying around, laughing, some of them drunk.

We came here to find the new radical Islam which has become so popular since the Arab Spring. This is the house we are looking for. Going up a dark and slippery staircase, which smells of urine, sawdust and ammonia, we arrive at the third floor. We enter a darkened room, lit by a single dim light bulb hanging from the ceiling. A curtain is barely hiding the dirty toilet. A big couch, which also serves as a bed, occupies almost all the room. A 22-year-old man, Yusef, is sitting cross-legged on the couch.

We have come to meet him before he leaves for Jihad in Syria. He is a Salafi Islamist, part of a movement that is fast becoming a major player in the region. This is not the pragmatic secularized Islam, nor the social democracy of the Muslim Brotherhood or of the moderate Ennahda movement (the Renaissance Party) whom the Western world found so reassuring after the Arab revolutions.

Yusef is set to leave for Syria to fight Bashir al-Assad's unholy regime. Other young Tunisians have already joined the jihad, recruited in the city's most radical mosques, and given a ticket to Turkey, along with directions on how to reach the army of rebels. "There are many other brothers: Egyptian, Libyan, Algerian," says Yusef. Similar international Muslim brigades fought in Afghanistan, Iraq and Bosnia.

Yusef doesn't look at us as he lays out his life story: poverty, the school, petty crimes to survive -- and finally the revolution.

He is one among many other " street thugs' from the slums who have kept the revolution alive in the streets, under the blows and tear gas. When asked if he is scared of a war which, at the end of the day is not his own, the boy suddenly comes to life: " You don't know anything," he says. "Fear, courage... My strength is not in weapons. It is inside. I am an instrument. Muslims had become dependent on the things that you gave and taught us. This is our rebirth. How can we be afraid of a tyrant's army? Don't you see that God is helping us? God moved the Americans' minds. The Americans are helping, arming and funding us. They are an instrument of the holy cause."

I wonder if Yusef knows that a few days ago two other young Tunisian men were captured with explosives and weapons and paraded on Syrian television. Maybe he does, but it does not matter.

On May 20, more than 20,000 Salafi Islamists gathered in the Tunisian city of Kairouan. There are rumors about them, almost certainly false, that they are training an army. But what's true is that Salafis in combat gear are patrolling Tunis' "park of love," where young couples meet up, behind a luxury hotel that Gadhafi's son was building. The Salafis sometimes raid the park to stop acts they consider to be impure.

In Jendouba and Sidi Bouzid, the Salafis attacked and burned down bars that sold alcoholic drinks.

Islam, united

Ihmed Zouhari, another young man, is one of the heads of the Hezb el Tahrir, a radical party that is run like a sect. They hate the Muslim Brotherhood and don't believe democracy has its place in Islamic society.

"We've tried everything: liberalism, dictatorships, nationalism, socialism. What did we get? Poverty and corruption. The only thing that stayed pure is Islam," believes Zouhari. "We need a radical change, a new system based on the Islamic doctrine and the Koran, and then we will unite all the Arab and Muslim countries under the same flag."

Asked how a doctrine that was born centuries ago can work in the modern world, he has no doubts: "You don't understand. Your democracy works for you because you live in a world where people can't decide on a political model, where ideology serves only to seize power and changes according to what is needed. Here, we don't have political parties, only Islam. You say that this is the Middle Ages. I ask you: have men really changed since then?"

Read more from La Stampa in Italian

Photo - Magharebia

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Society

Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.


The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.

Hollandse-Hoogte/ZUMA

Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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