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U.S. Ambassador Jake Walles, Minister of Defense Ghazi Jeribi, and Brigadier General Bechir Bedoui. U.S. Embassy transferring Night Vision Devices valued at nearly $2 million to the Tunisian Armed Forces, highlighting the strong and growing strategic partnership between the United States and Tunisia. Photo credit : tunisia.usembassy.gov.

National Security and the Elections – Secularist’s «Success,» Society’s Disillusionment

Terrorism is perceived to be among the greatest threats to Tunisia’s 2014 elections and the peaceful culmination of the country’s democratic transition period. As far as mainstream international media is concerned, the defining outcome of the October 23 legislative election was the auspicious «victory» of the secularist party Nidaa Tounes over Islamist rival Ennahdha.

Reports from within the country have focused on low voter turnout that has been attributed to the disillusionment of citizens in marginalized regions where there is a sense that the political transition is inauthentic and/or has categorically excluded certain populations, most notably those who «made the revolution». Significantly, voter turnout was lowest (47.7 percent) in Sidi Bouzid, the symbolic birthplace of the Tunisian revolution and so-called Arab Spring.

The Uncharacteristic Incidence of Terrorism

A number of voters and candidates … share concerns that the electoral process will fail, a sense of insecurity, and the fear that the country will suffer the same fate as others in the region. The tightening of security and the retaliation of weakened jihadist groups form a vicious cycle. The independent government of «technocrats» such as Mehdi Jomaa appeal to antiterrorist sentiment. They orient educated middle class concerns towards religious extremism, which risks resuscitating ideological polarization between Islamists and secularists… Update Briefing – La Tunisie des Frontieres (II): Terrorism and Regional Polarization, International Crisis Group.

A recent Update Briefing published by the International Crisis Group examines security issues facing Tunisia since 2013, discusses the politicization of jihadism and terrorism, and offers recommendations for the (new) government on how to address these issues moving forward. It is pertinent to note that political violence in Tunisia is seen as a postrevolutionary phenomenon, historically uncharacteristic of the country’s political landscape. On 23 October, in the delegation of Oued Ellil, governorate Manouba, «Operation Oued Ellil» carried out by national security forces resulted in the death of one soldier and six terrorists. On November 5, five soldiers were killed and ten others wounded in an attack on a military bus in the governorate of Kef, delegation Nebeur.

Since the departure of the Islamist Ennahdha party from executive power and the instatement of Mehdi Jomaa as Head of Government in the beginning of 2014, attacks against security forces in border zones have become commonplace. These attacks have ceased to aggravate mistrust … however … they sow doubt concerning the capacity of security institutions to protect the country and its border territories. Update Briefing – La Tunisie des Frontieres (II): Terrorism and Regional Polarization, International Crisis Group

The incidence of terrorist attacks and counterterrorism operations that have resulted in a considerable number of deaths since July 17 this year provoke frustration that the Tunisian government has not been able to devise an effective response to terrorism. Reinforcing this perception, the drawn out elaboration of a new antiterrorist draft law has come to an end before its completion; the task of deciding an antiterrorism law now falls to the newly-elected parliament (as per Article 148 of the Constitution).

Camp David and the Group of Eight – Partnerships with Italy, France, and the United States

«We condemn transnational organized crime and terrorism in all forms and manifestations. We pledge to enhance our cooperation to combat threats of terrorism and terrorist groups, including al-Qa’ida, its affiliates and adherents, and, transnational organized crime, including individuals and groups engaged in illicit drug trafficking and production. We stress that it is critical to strengthen efforts to curb illicit trafficking in arms in the Sahel area, in particular to eliminate the Man-Portable Air Defense Systems proliferated across the region; to counter financing of terrorism, including kidnapping for ransom; and to eliminate support for terrorist organizations and criminal networks. »

From the Camp David Declaration, May 2012.

Integral to Tunisia’s security operations is its cooperation with foreign governments. Partnerships with Italy, France, and the United States address national security as well as inextricably linked regional issues of immigration, trafficking, and terrorism.1 Since around the time of the 38th Group of Eight (G8) summit at Camp David in 2012, the operations of G8 Leader countries in the MENA region are (unofficially but observably) distinctive and complementary: Italy focuses on controlling migration in the Mediterranean; France via the Ministry of the Interior is primarily concerned with national security and police forces, and the United States Department of Defense is in charge of initiatives in the scope of a «war on terrorism.»2 Security meetings attended by Tunisian and foreign deputies over the past couple of months have illustrated the evident repartition of duties.

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Angelino Alfano, Minister of Interior of Italy since 2013.

Italy and Immigration Patrol: On October 3, one year after the Lampedusa shipwreck, Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano visited Tunis, calling for the end of Italy’s Mare Nostrum and the reinvigoration of the European Union’s Frontex program via Operation Triton. As a part of Tunisia-Italy joint efforts against illegal immigration, Alfano handed over two patrol boats to Tunisia and commented, «With the President of the Republic, Moncef Marzouki, we spoke not just about this delicate Tunisian transition and the strengthening of democratic institutions, but mostly about the fight against illegal trafficking in the Mediterranean, starting with human smuggling rings and international terrorism.»

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Bernard Cazeneuve. Photo credit: boursier.com.

France and the Interior Ministry: This week, French Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve visited Tunis to meet with Mehdi Jomaa, Lofti Ben Jeddou, and Ridha Sfar to discuss imminent security issues including illegal immigration and the «struggle against terrorism,» specifically the threat imposed by nationals affiliated with terrorist organizations abroad. Cazeneuve reported that France-Tunisia cooperation will encompass «the deradicalization, the prevention of departures [of nationals to engage with terrorist organizations abroad] … and the enhancement of cooperation between intelligence experts and police forces in these domains.»

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«Hagel Praises Tunisia’s Election Process as Model for Region.» Photo courtesy of the US Embassy-Tunis website.

United States and the Department of Defense: Early this month Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ghazi Jeribi and US Ambassador to Tunisia Jacob Walles traveled to Washington to meet with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to discuss «ways in which the U.S. and Tunisia could cooperate in fighting terrorism, given continuing instability in the region» and «the growing regional concern over foreign fighters from North Africa moving to Iraq and Syria, as well as the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other al-Qaida splinter groups emerging in Africa.»

The meeting has taken place in the midst of the transfer of American security equipment to the Tunisian Armed Forces. On October 22, the US announced the donation of «law enforcement officer safety equipment including bulletproof vests, helmets, shields, and other personnel protective gear» as a part of «an ongoing program that includes training to support the Tunisian security forces in their operations against groups attempting to destabilize the country.» On November 7, the US, «using specialized authorities, accelerated delivery of…Night Vision Devices by nearly six months and facilitated $600,000 in savings for the Tunisian government … The acquisition of these Night Vision Devices further enhances the existing capability of the Tunisian Army, Air Force and Navy to conduct operations during hours of limited visibility against terrorist organizations determined to destabilize Tunisia.»

Notes

1. In its most recent Update Briefing, the International Crisis Group emphasizes the interrelated phenomenons of immigration, the trafficking of contraband, and terrorism that constitute security issues: “…terrorism is the tree that hides the forest of crime. People close to the former Troika such as the former vice president asser that the «instrumentalization of jihadists by mafia groups is already underway and will increase.» Others, such as a former official of the dissolved RCD party of president Ben Ali state that certain jihadist attacks against security forces are coordinated by big traffickers who have no affiliation whatsoever with radical Islamism. Jihadist violence and violence associated with organized crime therefore seem more and more related. International Crisis Group.

See the U.S. Department of State webpage on the “Deauville Partnership with Arab Countries in Transition” for reading and official statements regarding the roles of the G8 countries in the MENA region.

2. This observation is attributed to Nawaat contributor Yassine Bellamine.