Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Why so many of Tunisia’s Youth Are Drawn to Extremist Groups | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Tunisia – Many study centers in Tunisia, including national institutions estimate that Tunisians top the list of religious extremists who joined armed organizations in the tension areas in Libya, Syria and Iraq; and in spite the difficulty of providing accurate statistics, officials in Tunisia estimate that around 13,000 Tunisians have joined fundamentalist and salafi jihadi groups.

How this phenomenon can be read? What deep reasons and conditional motives stand behind it? How will it evolve amid the developments in Iraq, Libya, and Syria and the improvement of security coordination between Tunisia and Turkey; which was the main “route” to join armed factions in the Levant and Iraq?

Many researchers and experts of social science in Tunisia including Sociology Professor and Former Culture Minister Mehdi Mabrouk has linked this phenomenon to the deep changes that took place in the Tunisian community and in other countries of the region.

Those experts note that the spread of violence and the hopeless choices among young generations have emerged before the Arab revolutions, when youth used tens of “death boats” in the Mediterranean for illegitimate migration to Europe; social and psychological studies carried on over the two past decades have showed that rates of violent behaviors, homosexuality, abuse of alcohol, drugs and psychotropic substance have risen by 10-20% among students.

Failure of the educational system

In the same context, many activists in the youth and cultural associations have linked between the “hopeless solutions” – including joining to extremist groups- with the failure of the educational system and what they describe as a rupture with the official and unofficial institutions of media and culture.

Samar Milad (23), a university researcher told Asharq Al-Awsat that the failure in education and social integration pushed her colleagues to take embittered options like joining extremist groups or mafias, which seek to encourage youth to migrate either to Europe or to the lands of Jihad with ISIS through illegitimate means.

Media and Islamic law

Sami Ibrahim, researcher in extremist intellect asserts that Tunisian media outlets have played an important role in promoting extremist thoughts on Jihad and Islamic law after the overthrow of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011; he also consider that social media websites with more that 80% followers among the Tunisian youth have been also responsible for this promotion.

Associations specialized in media monitoring have urged from efforts of some Islamic parties like Hizb-UT-Tahrir in inciting youth to support the Sunni state in the Levant and Iraq.


Journalist Al-Jami’ al-Qasimi sees that policies, official positions and their promotion in the Tunisian media are factors that contributed in encouraging thousands of youth on migrating to the areas of tension to fight polytheists, Nusairis, Alawis, and apostates…He added that the travel to many countries like Libya, Syria, Iraq and Turkey does not require visas from Tunisians since 60 years, which has played a remarkable role in facilitating migration of Jihadists. However, the Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui said that raising the level of security coordination between Turkey and Tunisia has reduced the rate of Tunisian migrants who may possibly join extremist groups.

Estrangement with youth

Mohammad al-Juwaily, General Director of the National Youth Official Observatory in Tunisia points that more dangerous factors stand behind this phenomenon; it sees that the huge gap and estrangement between the Tunisian youth and the country’s institutions, political parties, and NGOs plays a major role; according to recent statistics, the young generation in Tunisia lost its trust in the state’s institutions and officials who call for the sake of the nation and its supreme interests.

Freedoms in weak states

On another hand, some media figures consider that the spread of extremism in a secular country like Tunisia have been invested over the past 60 years; Haykal Mahfouz, international law professor says that after the revolution in 2011, the state has made default decisions; it has made procedural steps for reform and change rather than replacing the old regime’s institutions.

Youth and terrorism

Mohsen ben Ali, general director at the Tunisian Ministry of Commerce sees that the growth of people smuggling and the roles of smugglers in the country have significantly contributed in encouraging youth on leaving the secular Tunisia and to migrate to the lands of conflicts.

Ben Ali also noted that discord between local officials and human rights activists regarding the case of returners from war-regions has been another reason pushing youth to choose extremism or to stay in the areas of tension rather than returning to their country.