By Veronica Baker
Predictably, Ennahda did not have the proper public policy experience to successfully lead the Tunisian transition. It stepped down two years after the election and handed power to a nonpartisan government. This failure to lead has contributed to the frustration of many Islamists who already had a history of disenfranchisement and exclusion.
Moreover, in the eyes of religious conservatives, Ennahda did not manage to sufficiently push for Islamist ideals in the transitional process. Much of the proposed Islamist legislation was dropped, and Ennahda has largely tried to distance itself from extremists. This has further contributed to the isolation and desperation of extremists, making violence all the more attractive as a vehicle for recognition and power.
Lastly, the conditions of economic inequality so often connected to terrorism are also present in Tunisia. Despite nationwide increases in education, unemployment remains disproportionately high in southern and western regions, sometimes outpacing unemployment in developed regions by more than 2:1. Tunisia’s impoverished regions, which have been asymmetrically affected by decades of corrupt economic policy, serve as breeding grounds for extremism. Youth unmotivated by the religious elements of extremism are instead being swept up by promises of wealth and glory.
Feeling betrayed by Ennahda’s failure to remain in power, lacking political agency, and suffering economically, Tunisia’s Islamists are desperate. In order to slow the spread of extremism, Tunisia must focus on promoting a national discourse of inclusion and political voice through democratic institutions for all communities while allocating funds to development and employment projects in the rural governorates.