What will Tunisia's state of emergency actually achieve?

What will Tunisia's state of emergency actually achieve?
4 min read
14 Jul, 2015
Comment: The state of emergency declared to combat terrorism is likely to be ineffective or even counter-productive, says Samir Hamdi. A completely new approach is necessary, he writes.
A recent anti-terrorism operation in Tunisia's western Kasserine region [Getty]
The president of Tunisia's recent declaration of a state of emergency to combat terrorism a week after the country's second serious attack on tourists may appear to be decisive action, but the reality is somewhat different.

The post-revolution Tunisian constitution states - in article 80 - that, after consulting with the head of parliament and the prime minister, the president can declare a state of emergency for a limited period of time.

Regardless of this constitutional provision, President Beji Caid Essebsi's speech attempting to justify his decision was not convincing, as the situation in the country did not amount to "an immediate danger resulting from a serious lack of public order or events that amount to a national calamity", the conditions under which a state of emergency may be declared.
Tunisia's social discontent cannot be dealt with through emergency laws.

The reasons given by the president, which included unemployment, strikes, protests and the terrorist attacks that have been highly damaging to the country's tourism industry, are not new occurrences in Tunisia.

The country's social discontent cannot be dealt with through exceptional laws, it requires a measured response - including talks with influential social forces such as trade unions - in which the social demands and the state's economic ability to meet such demands are discussed transparently in order to persuade all parties of the important need for a social truce at this time.

In terms of terrorism, despite its obvious dangers, especially after the Sousse and Bardo Museum attacks, the declaration of a state of emergency will not strengthen the necessary security response, especially since the country's security failures require a revision of procedures and a formulation of a comprehensive anti-terror strategy.

New strategy needed

The strategy needs to be able to disrupt and dismantle terrorist networks on the one hand and deal with the incubators and drivers of terrorism on the other, which to judge from the government's recent decisions, it is incapable of doing.

Closing mosques and sacking imams is not a solution, and might provide further ammunition to the supporters of terrorist groups, who try to convince youths that Islam is under attack in Tunisia.

What can be achieved by the closure of a mosque? The problem is not the place but the rhetoric and the groups that use these mosques for recruitment.

Close the mosque and they will spread their rhetoric by other means and recruit elsewhere. Extremist groups have a host of ways to promote themselves and recruit people, especially with modern communication tools and the internet.

Fighting these groups requires comprehensive religious, cultural and educational plans to convince the widest possible segment of youth of the dangers of distorted and extremist views.

It requires the collective efforts of all political and civil forces, while being cautious not to buy into the extremist secular rhetoric that transforms the fight against terror into a conflict with religiosity in its various forms - which ultimately feeds into the extremist agenda adopted by terrorist groups.

We should learn from the experiences of the previous regime. It focused its political and media campaigns on combatting religiosity in general, along with iron-clad security measures.

However, it was still unable to prevent the rise of terrorist groups under its nose that carried out attacks such as the attack against a synagogue in Djerba in 2002, and the armed confrontation in Soliman at the end of 2005.

Terrorism cannot be beaten by an executive decision... it requires the cooperation of political and social forces to contain and limit its danger.

These incidents prove that terrorism cannot be beaten by an executive decision taken at the highest level of government.

It requires the cooperation of political and social forces to contain and limit its danger. Eradicating terrorism, on the other hand, is a very difficult task, especially with the rise of terrorism and violence across the region.

The president's statement sounded almost like an admission of the failure of the current government - mostly composed of members of the president's party - and its inability to deal with the various crises that Tunisia is witnessing.

This should prompt serious thought on how to reform the government.

First, the government should be based on a strong coalition between the two largest political blocs, Nidaa Tounes and Ennahdha, in accordance with their respective parliamentary representation.

Second, ministers should be appointed based on their competence. Some famous politicians have proven their incompetence when handed ministerial positions.

Third, the government should have clear, specific and achievable programmes it presents to parliament, and through which it can deal with social forces and trade unions to stop unregulated strikes.

Finally, the government should start a comprehensive national dialogue including all social and political forces, because solving the country's major problems requires a social consensus first and foremost, not top-down decisions that exacerbate problems rather than solve them.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.