In a move that bolstered Tunisia’s claim to a strong civil society and relatively successful democratic transition, thousands of citizens flocked to the streets to express outrage at Wednesday’s Bardo museum attack in Tunis. Crowds amassed in the center of Tunis hours after the incident, expressing both patriotism and vitriol against the assailants. More protests against the lethal terrorist attack, which left 23 dead and around 40 wounded, have been planned for Thursday, according to The Guardian.
Twenty tourists and three Tunisians — one a police officer — were killed after two gunmen entered the Bardo museum and instigated a three hour hostage ordeal, the deadliest attack on civilians in Tunisia for 13 years. Just hours after the attack, thousands of Tunisians — carrying the national flag and singing the national anthem and songs from the 2011 revolution — marched through Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the main thoroughfare of Tunis. Tunisians also lit candles near the Bardo in memoriam of the victims.
A young activist told The Guardian:
After the last election we thought we made a big step forward to real democracy, but what happened today was like a KO to our future. An attack so close to our parliament makes us speechless.
Trade unions and other civil society groups have reportedly called for silent demonstrations at 3 p.m. GMT Thursday. The gatherings, intended to be held outside the Bardo museum, have been organized as a display of national unity in the fight against terrorism.
Off the streets and outside Tunisia, in the highways of social media, the hashtags #JeSuisBardo and #JeSuisTunisien were trending on Twitter, as an international chorus expressed solidarity for the mourning country. People even came out in person to demonstrate their condolences and support for Tunisia, even in the freezing winter temperatures of Montreal.
As The Telegraph reports, international Twitter users have started posting images of themselves with signs reading: “I will come to Tunisia this summer.” The statement is a direct response to concerns that heightened terrorist activity might impact on Tunisia’s tourism sector — a crucial industry for the country’s struggling economy.
Meanwhile, the country's security forces were busy. The two gunmen were shot dead by police as the siege ended Wednesday. On Thursday, security forces arrested nine people in connection to the attacks, according to a president’s office announcement reported by Reuters.
Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi has vowed that his country will battle terrorism “without mercy,” according to BBC. In the “war with terrorism,” Essebsi said on national television broadcast, “Democracy will win and it will survive.” And certainly, the wave of domestic public condemnation for the attacks seems to suggest that Tunisia has the makings of a solid democratic state (despite the alarming numbers of Tunisians who have opted to fight for ISIS).
The U.N. Security Council condemned the attack in a statement issued late Wednesday. The council extended its condolences to the victims’ families, and stated that no terrorist action could reverse Tunisia’s path to democracy.
The Tunisian army will reportedly deploy to major cities across the country, in an effort to boost security. The Tunisian government now has a fine line to tread, since a crackdown on terrorism could negatively impact the democratic freedoms that Tunisian’s have only recently been afforded. Efficiency without a descent into authoritarianism is a tall order for the delicate emergent democracy.
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