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Terrorized Tunisia

TUNIS – The recent terror attack on Berlin’s Christmas market – which killed 12 and injured more than 50 – cast a pall over this year’s holiday celebrations across Europe. Viewed from Tunis, where I happened to be during the fallout, the attack has also had a major, albeit different, impact. Tunisia, after all, is the home country of Anis Amri, the alleged perpetrator.

Like Europeans, Tunisians fear terrorism. But they fear not just individual terrorist attacks, like those in the Bardo museum in Tunis and on the beach in Sousse in 2015, or even the numerous political assassinations it has faced since its regime change began in 2011. Tunisians worry that social upheaval will destroy their remarkable but fragile young democracy. Neighboring Libya offers a stark illustration of what that could look like.

The prospect of Tunisia’s government attempting to manage the situation alone is not an attractive one. Tunisians know that their state is weak and cannot really protect them. They could end up like Egypt, which is becoming a police state, or move in the direction taken by Algeria, where a brief flirtation with political Islam 25 years ago gave way to an authoritarian clampdown and years of violent conflict.

Making matters worse, concerns about terrorism have all but killed off Tunisia’s large tourism industry, severely weakening the economy. As a result, a country that already receives International Monetary Fund support is trying to buy social stability by increasing state employment. To contain the bulging budget deficit, it has opted to increase taxes, further reducing growth.