Disaffection leaves Tunisians vulnerable to violent extremism


Marginalized Tunisians are vulnerable to radical, often violent ideology in part because they believe they lack viable, nonviolent means of alleviating grievances, according to a new report. Public opinion research from the International Republican Institute’s Center for Insights in Survey Research reveals a nexus between high expectations disappointed by the post-revolution government and continued grievances over issues such as the dearth of economic opportunity, corruption and harassment by security services.

“Unemployment, the lack of responsiveness by local government and the perception of widespread corruption appear to rob vulnerable segments of Tunisia’s population of their sense of agency and self-worth.,” adds the report, which highlights the sources of vulnerabilities to violent extremism. Through in-depth focus group discussions and one-on-one interviews—including with friends and family of extremists who left to fight with groups such as ISIS—IRI identifies recommendations for community-led initiatives to counter violent extremism.

“Despite the great strides towards democracy Tunisia has taken since the Arab Spring, it is one of the largest exporters of foreign fighters to extremist hotbeds like Syria and Iraq,” said Scott Mastic, Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “This research confirms that the belief that there is no effective, nonviolent way to express grievances is being exploited by terrorist recruiters, and proposes innovative, citizen-centered counter-strategies to address this problem.”

The insidious connection between corruption and violent extremism operates in a feedback loop, according to Luke Waggoner and Eguiar Lizundia, Senior Governance Specialists at IRI, a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy: as violent extremism rises, governments with questionable democratic credentials opt to maintain the status quo rather than undertake needed democratic and anti-corruption reforms, in the interest of shoring up state-level “stability.”

In Tunisia, violent extremist organizations have found a fertile recruitment base among marginalized groups who feel left behind by the country’s embattled elected leaders and remnants of the authoritarian-era security apparatus.

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