Thousands of people joined a march in Tunis in an expression of unity in the face of recent extremist incidents. At a ceremony, world leaders including French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas gathered to pay respect to those who had passed away. Speaking at the ceremony, held at a museum, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi praised the defiance and unity that his citizens had shown. Talking about the recent events, he emphasised unity stating that, “when Tunisia is targeted, the whole nation stands as one.”
Twenty-one tourists and one Tunisian passed away following a raid by nine extremists at the Bardo Museum in the Tunisian capital of Tunis on 18 March. Amongst the tourists there were citizens from the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Colombia and Japan. The Tunisian security authorities have alleged that the people responsible for the raid were members of the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade, an extremist group. Following the events, authorities have claimed to have apprehended dozens of people in connection with the incident and before the march announced the passing of the man who they believe to be the leader of the group, Lokman Abu Sakhra.
President Hollande pledged French support and, at the ceremony, stated “today it’s about Tunisia, and the values it represents in the Arab world and beyond.” International recognition of these events highlights the current unity of governments against these and similar extremist events. Many of the marchers were waving Tunisian flags and holding up signs saying “We Are Bardo” – a reference to the “Je Suis Charlie” campaign following the events in Paris that led to the passing of Charlie Hebdo journalists. In a region being challenged by the presence of extremist groups, the unity shown by the international community highlights the strength citizens may be finding through demonstrating their solidarity.
Tunisia has been seen as one of the more stable countries in the region following its Arab Spring uprisings, which managed to change the government to a more representative parliamentary republic. Demonstrations in 2010 led to Zine El Abidine Ben Ali being overthrown and the eventual election of a parliament in October 2014 after a transition period. The Arab Spring brought mixed results, as some countries such as Syria, Libya and Egypt are still home to challenging situations. Events in the Bardo Museum may potentially unite people in Tunisia further in the face of extremist groups that are commonly associated with situations such as those in Iraq with Islamic State (IS). Demonstrations, such as these in Tunis, indicate that events such as these may actually bring some people closer together as they search for consolation together.
Following events during the Arab Spring, the Middle East and North Africa has seen testing circumstances as extremist organisations such as the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade, Islamic State, Boko Haram and al-Qaeda have attempted to gain territories or exert influence. Some of these organisations rising, such as IS and al-Qaeda, has caused international movements to be formed in an attempt to limit their advance. These circumstances have seen public expressions of unity such as the acceptance of Syrian refugees by states across the world, the demonstrations such as this in Tunisia and the Paris march after the events at the Charlie Hebdo offices.
Extremist organisations seem to attempt to divide people and these expressions of unity highlight the ways in which people are able to show defiance to these groups. The pride shown by the demonstrators in what they believe to be the principles of their country aims to be an effective protection towards extremism. The international response to these groups might be strengthened due to the involvement of Middle Eastern and North African countries. The demonstrations in Tunis might be an indication that the Tunisian people need to continue their movement towards a representative parliamentary system rather than a future involving extremist groups.
How might unified international response to organisations such as these bring productive change?