The majority of militant fighters within Tunisia are university educated with a disproportionate amount of women occupying leadership positions, a study by a new think tank has said.
The newly inaugurated Center for Research and Studies on Terrorism has assembled a number of lawyers, sociologists, psychologists, and journalists to conduct comprehensive research on the roots of armed extremism in Tunisian society. On Wednesday, the center presented the results of its preliminary research in a paper titled, “Terrorism in Tunisia throughout the judiciary’s files,” which is available to the public upon request to the forum.
In a phone conversation with Tunisia Live, media representative for Tunisia’s Forum on Economic and Social Rights Romdhan Ben Amor explained the organization’s unique approach to the subject. Whereas terrorism is typically studied purely within the context of security, Ben Amor said, the new center aims to examine the particular social and economic conditions from which extremist behavior emerges, especially among Tunisian youth.
According to member of the center, Imen Gzara the Forum intends to assemble a database of demographic data based on the circumstances of a sample number of 1,000 convicted militants, as well as information pulled from legal files.
The study’s findings identified distinct trends regarding the educational status and gender of convicted of terrorists in Tunisia: specifically the high number of those with a university-level education, and the disproportionate number of women in leadership positions relative to other Arab countries.
According to Ben Amor, Tunisian university students are uniquely susceptible to extremist ideas because of their vulnerable economic position, and the ability of militant-organizations to influence distressed youth. Ben Amor was also highly critical of the Tunisian educational system, which he said failed to cultivate the critical thinking skills that would provide Tunisian youth with the tools to challenge the recruiters’ message.
With regard to women’s’ participation in terror groups, Ben Amor noted that Tunisia has seen a shift from women participating mostly in secondary roles to assuming key positions of leadership. He cited the famous case of Fatma Zouaghi, a Tunisian woman who reportedly worked as the media coordinator of Ansar Sharia and was responsible for the recruitment of various young IT specialists for other extremist groups.
According to an Amnesty International report in July, Tunisian authorities have arrested over 1,000 individuals on suspicion of terrorism since the Bardo attacks in March 2015. Former head of government Habib Essid has claimed that 18,000 young Tunisians have been prevented from joining terrorist groups in conflict areas such as Iraq, Syria, and Libya.
Rahma is preparing a master thesis in Anglo-American studies. She is interested in politics and foreign affairs. Since the outbreak of the Tunisian revolution, she volunteered for several Tunisian associations such as ATIDE, Sawty and others. She writes articles about post-revolution Tunisia.