The devastating attack on the Tunisian beach resort of Sousse by an Islamic State (IS) linked Tunisian militant in June was the worse terror attack on Britons in a decade. In a brutal daylight rampage, Seifeddine Rezgui shot dead 38 with 30 of these Britons.
The attack sent shockwaves across the UK, with harrowing tales of tourists shot dead guarding their loves or in their desperate attempts to escape. As the coffins returned to British shores in recent weeks, the chilling nature of the attack could not be closer.
This placed the British government in an awkward position to react, with extension of air strikes to Syria been discussed by MPs. In recent days, the UK Foreign Office went a step further and advised that all UK tourists should leave Tunisia immediately.
UK Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond’s statement might be contradictory in that another attack was “highly likely” even though they have no firm intelligence on any impeding plot, but the UK government could not afford the backlash if more Britons were caught in the crossfire.
The Sousse attack has put the Tunisian government in a tough predicament. It has increased security across the beaches but now faces the threat that its vital tourism industry, which constitutes approx. 15% of GDP, could be ruined. Hammond defended their advice and stated “more work is needed to effectively protect tourists from the terrorist threat”.
The actions of a few tarnish the lives of millions and the image of a country but that was the intended objective of such attacks. The Tunisian people deserve huge respect for their actions that prevented an even larger massacre with many putting their lives in front of their “guests”.
It was not Syrians or Iraqis dying under the hands of IS but the attacks were much closer to home forcing the EU to rethink its stance on wars in Syria and Iraq.
The attack in Sousse follows the attack in March on Bardo Museum in Tunis which 20 tourists were killed. Tunisia was the trigger for the Arab Spring in 2011 and arguably the only success story of the Arab uprising. It has only recently recovered from the turmoil of such an uprising but with a civil war and Islamic State rampant across the border in Libya, Tunisia is in a precarious position.
It has tried portray itself as a democratic and secular country but at the same time Tunisians comprise the largest source of IS militants.
Ironically, Tunisia only ended years of security state rule in 2011 but are now in the ascendancy towards a new one. The government has been forced into tough action that risks alienating the population. For example, 80 mosques were closed in recent weeks with conservative Muslims feeling unfairly targeted.
Such is the threat emanating from Libya that it has even commissioned a new wall across its eastern border with Libya.
As a result of the UK decision to withdraw tourists, Irish and Danish governments quickly followed suite. Although, other European Government have not gone as far, tourism is already feeling the straining with some hotels almost empty and the ever popular tourist destination, the ruins of ancient Carthage, was reportedly devoid of a single tourist on Friday.
Ultimately, Nabil Ammar, Tunisian ambassador to the UK, is correct in labelling the actions of Westminster as “…what the terrorists want….By damaging the tourism, by having foreigners leaving the country, they damage the whole sector and put so many people out of work and on the streets.”
Evacuating all tourists may seem reactive short-term stance but this is not a solution. What if there was an attack in Morocco, Egypt etc, does the UK just keep adding these countries to its black list or does the Sousse attack serve as a wakeup call to the UK and European governments that their passive policies in Syria have failed and that they must alter their strategy on dealing with the threat of IS?
First Published: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc