Tunisians speak out against terrorism on independence day

Tunisians speak out against terrorism on independence day
Feature: Tunisians have united in opposition to violence after gunmen shot dead dozens of people in one of the capital's most popular museums.
6 min read
21 March, 2015
Tunisians took to the street to protest against extremism [AFP]
Tunisians gathered on Friday on Habib Bourguiba avenue in downtown Tunis to celebrate the 59th anniversary of independence from France.

This year, celebrations of Independence Day came in the wake of the deadly attack on Tunisia's largest museum which left 23 dead and 43 injured.

Despite terrorist threats and heavy police presence, hundreds of Tunisian flocked to downtown Tunis to celebrate in defiance.

In a show of unity, Tunisians sang the national anthem, chanted national slogans, and danced to hiphop artists including Balti and Kafon at an open-air concert.

Mohamed Ali Dridi, 56, calligrapher:
     The Bardo attack will unite Tunisians more than ever before

"The Bardo attack is a deep wound. It is the first time that we witness anything like it - we used to hear about similar attacks in Iraq and Syria. 

"It is [Bardo Museum] the centre of gravity of Tunisian culture, it's at the heart of Tunis - the legislative authority; the parliament is there - I never thought such an attack could happen in place like this.

"What happened is a big question mark, after what [the Islamic State group] did in Iraq's museums, we should have provided more protection to our museum.

"Since the revolution, I come to all celebrations in this street  holding this sign that reads: 'Beautiful is Tunisia with us and we are beautiful with it.' The Bardo attack will unite Tunisians more than ever before."

Lotfi Hedhili, Bardo Museum employee:

     Tourism will be even better in future, because Tunisia is loved all over the world

"I was shocked when I heard the news. I couldn't believe that this could happen, people started to call to check if I'd survived.

"This event will directly affect the reputation of Tunisia in the world. This museum is internationally recognised; it symbolises Tunisian civilisation.

"This attack is motivated by envy. They know the cultural heritage of our country, and they know it will succeed - just like its revolution.

"Tourism will be even better in future, because Tunisia is loved all over the world. We faced crises like this before, but people always return to Tunisia.

"We will not fear terrorism, if we show fear, the terrorists will think they won."

Salwa Chebbi, 53, paramedic instructor: 

     All citizens will be the watchful eye to protect Tunisia

"Today, I came to Habib Bourguiba Avenue to celebrate the sovereignty and independence of the nation.

"We want to send a message to the terrorists that we are unified and that they can never scare us.

"We want to say we are here and we will stand against terrorism. All citizens will be the watchful eye to protect Tunisia. Despite our critical economic situation, we will conquer terrorism and the world will talk about us."

Mehrzia Limam, 64, retired chief administrator: 

     We always find a way to solve our problems

"The attack on Bardo targeted our history, these people [the attackers] want to destroy history and sweep it from existence.

"But what they do not know is that they can not make us fearful. Tunisians went to Bardo Museum on the day of attack because we do not have the culture of fear.

"I'm hopeful for the future of Tunisia more than at anytime before. In the past, we had problems in the National Constituent Assembly, but we solved it through national dialogue - we always find a way to solve our problems.

"We have been giving lessons throughout history of breaking through changes, and other countries follow us. We bend but we do not break."

Mariem Saidan, 20, student:

     We are not scared, we will fight terrorism with music with dance.

"I came today to denounce terrorism; we want to show terrorists that they failed.

"We are not scared, we will fight terrorism with music with dance.

"It is symbolic, but it will make our voice heard.

"I want to call all Tunisians and unions to stop striking and go to work to help our country.

"Tunisia's women will stand to fight terrorism before its men.

Jalel Ezine, engineering professor:

     We will press ahead towards democracy, modernity and sustainability against all odds

"The terrorist attack perpetrated in the Bardo Museum is a barbaric act against freedom, democracy and human history.

"As usual, the terrorists are young, brainwashed Tunisians. This attests to the failures of successive governments since the revolution.

"Tunisians' history goes back at least 7,000 years. We are the siblings of General Hannibal and the mighty sociologist Ibn Khaldun. We will press ahead towards democracy, modernity and sustainability against all odds."

The 'second casualty'

Tunisia's economy is still recovering after the 2011 revolution. Tourism, one of the central pillars of the economy, dropped by 3.2 percent in 2014, and the Bardo attack is expected to worsen the situation.

The attack could cost Tunisia up to $360 million in lost tourism revenue, said Finance Minister Slim Chaker.

Prime Minister Habib Essid said the attack was "unprecedented" in Tunisia, targeting the tourism sector, and the national economy.

Yet hope that Tunisia can survive this turmoil persists.

"The Bardo attack has of course had a negative impact on our economy but we can reverse this impact to a positive one if there is a political will," economics professor Fatma Charfi Marakchi told al-Araby

"We can organise a march like France's [Charlie Hebdo] march and invite world leaders to come to Tunisia. We can invest in the sympathy of other countries."

A social media campaign has been launched, with hundreds of sympathiser around the world declaring their intention to visit Tunisia as an act of faith and defiance against terrorism.

"To attract visitors we need first to rely on Tunisians living abroad to return in the summer - they can encourage tourism by also talking to their colleagues and friends," said Marakchi.

Social media users have been posting their pictures on Twitter and Facebook, stating "I will come to Tunisia this summer".

The campaign's Facebook page includes photos of hundreds of would-be visitors, and has been "liked" more than 50,000 times.

Security vs freedom

Many Tunisians fear that the Bardo attack will not only have negative impact on economy but also on the country's nascent democracy.

Fears that the Ministry of Interior could tighten its grip on security at the expense of civic freedoms remain a real concern.

"We do not fear the security forces when it they are hard on terrorists, but we fear that security officers might target political opponents in the name of fighting terrorism," said Imen Trigui, a lawyer and the founder of the Liberty and Justice organisation.

"The security work should respect the law. We have seen serious arbitrary arrests, and that serves only terrorists because it distracts [security forces] from the arrests which are really necessary.

"Our strategy of fighting terrorism is wrong or it is not implemented effectively."

A draft anti-terrorism bill, to replace a 2003 law, will be submitted to Tunisia's parliament next week.

Amine Ghali, president of the Kawakibi Center for Transitional Justice, hopes Tunisian MPs will review the draft law without being emotionally influenced by the recent attack:

"This is the first test to assess Tunisia's commitment to the principles of its constitution."