Anis Amri, the small-time criminal without a German residency permit who turned into a jihadist assassin in Berlin, was originally from Tunisia. Tunisia of all places! Tunisia, the country the West has praised as a model of democracy after the Arab Spring and the overthrow of the Tunisian autocrat, Ben Ali. Tunisia, the Arab country seen as an island of stability in the midst of Middle Eastern chaos. Only one of all those things is true: In Tunisia, moderate fundamentalists and forces of modern democracy were willing to cohabit in the administration.
They adopted the only Constitution in the Arab World that deserves to be called democratic. But that administration didn’t bring the country real political stability. Terrorist attacks by the extremist group known as the Islamic State on tourists saw the most important pillar of the Tunisian economy crumble. An already high unemployment rate went up even more and poverty increased further.
The result was a rapidly surging sense of desperation at the lack of prospects, particularly among Tunisian youth, who felt themselves cheated out of a future. Since democratic freedoms and constitutional rights couldn’t fill their empty stomachs, these youths became more and more susceptible to the jihadists’ radical messages of salvation.
The main beneficiary has been the Islamic State, or IS, group which to date has recruited more followers from Tunisia than from anywhere else in the Arab world. With 7,000 IS members, the ten-million-strong country has the highest rate of jihadist worldwide per capita. Tunisia proves one thing: When social inequality and abject poverty persist, even a hard-won democratic order offers no guarantee in neutralizing jihadists.
Tunisia’s chronic crisis is similar to that of many Arab states.