Why are so many Tunisians joining Islamic State?


Unlike neighboring Arab Spring states that have been consumed by violent extremism, civil war and resurgent authoritarianism, Tunisia actually managed to build a vibrant democracy. A new poll from the International Republican Institute reveals that Tunisians prefer democracy to a non-democratic government by two-to-one, note analysts Geoffrey Macdonald and Luke Waggoner.

Despite these positive indicators, the fact remains: Tunisians constitute the single largest group of foreign terrorist fighters in Syria, Iraq and Libya. So why are Tunisians leaving their young democracy for the Islamic State’s theocratic pseudo-state? they write for The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage.

The poor governance-radicalization nexus is a critical factor, they suggest:

Many interviewees said their family member’s or friend’s transformation to religious fundamentalist and ultimately foreign jihadist occurred after the 2011 revolution. IRI’s research in Tunisia indicates that certain governance-related expectations — improved service delivery, security sector reform, substantial anti-corruption efforts — have not materialized at the rate or in the manner many marginalized Tunisians had hoped. Our evidence elucidates the importance of a key “push” factor for extremism: Disillusionment and discontent with the nature and pace of democratic progress has caused some Tunisians to embrace violent, nondemocratic change.

Geoffrey Macdonald is a postdoctoral fellow at the International Republican Institute. Luke Waggoner is a senior governance specialist at IRI, a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy.


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