A report released Wednesday by a Brussels-based NGO offers an in-depth examination of Salafism in Tunisia and provides recommendations for how government, civil society, and religious organizations can confront challenges posed by the growing movement.
Although it is unclear who assassinated opposition leader Chokri Belaid last week, the fact that so many Tunisians immediately assigned blame to Salafists has “once again brought this issue to the fore,” according to the executive summary of the International Crisis Group (ICG) report “Tunisia: Violence and the Salafi Challenge.”
“For now, despite the former regime’s ouster, the security vacuum, economic problems, strikes, and various protest movements as well as the release and return from exile of numerous jihadis, Tunisia has experienced neither armed conflict, nor widespread violence nor major terrorist attack,” according to the report. Although many secular members of society remain suspicious of the relationship between Ennahdha and Salafist groups, the report’s authors write that the ruling party may have helped avert major violence through “a mix of dialogue, persuasion, and co-optation.”
Nonetheless, the strategies used thus far have their limitations, and the report says Tunisia must confront three primary problems: the marginalization of young, often poor, Tunisians who may turn to Salafism; the uncertainty surrounding Ennahdha’s views and the country’s religious identity; and the potential jihadi threat of armed conflict.
“In the absence of an appropriate answer by the authorities and the dominant Islamist party, violence in all its shades — whether tied to social, demographic, urban, political, or religious causes — could well cross a perilous threshold,” according to the report.
ICG’s recommendations include setting up an independent committee to investigate Chokri Belaid’s assassination, implementing programs and support systems for youth in economically disadvantaged areas, issuing a charter to guide religious teaching at the Grand Mosque rooted in Tunisia’s reformist movement, compiling a list of areas most at risk of violence, and training security forces in modern, non-lethal methods of crowd control.