Just a day after a terrorist attack on a hotel in the heartland of Tunisian tourism, Sousse, the young Tunisian democracy is facing its biggest challenge. On Friday, a shooter, disguised as a tourist, entered the Imperial Marhaba hotel and killed 39 people. Dozens more were injured in the attack. The majority of the victims were tourists. Police gunned down the alleged shooter, 24-year-old electrician Saifuddin Reezgui, shortly after the attack. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has declared responsibility for the attack, though the Tunisian government was quick to reject that claim. The attack was, however, the worst in Tunisia’s modern history and the second one within a few months after the assault on the Bardot museum in Tunis earlier this year, when armed men killed 22 visitors.
Tunisia is now facing major challenges. While a cruel attack like this on its own would be tough to overcome for any society, the targeted killing of tourists hits Tunisia and its economy especially hard. Last year, six million tourists visited Tunisia, making up seven percent of the country’s gross domestic product alone. The tourist industry, moreover, provides for most of Tunisia’s foreign currency and more jobs than any other industry aside from farming. Sousse stands representative for the country’s dependency on tourism. The city’s main attractions are hotels, bars and restaurants. The result of Friday’s attack is the departure of most tourists from the town, as British, German and other tour operators have arranged for tourists to return immediately.
Consequently, the important summer season for Tunisian tourism seems to already be ruined. Experts anticipate a major reduction in visitors for the remainder of the summer. Tunisia’s tourism minister Salma Louise rightfully declares that “this is a catastrophe for the economy” and that “losses will be great.”
This desperate situation could potentially lead to political instability, as voices calling for the ‘good old days’ under dictators like Ben Ali are getting louder. This is a critical time for Tunisia, a country that underwent a revolution for democracy as part of the Arab Spring in 2011. This fresh democracy has been tested all along, yet has not faced a situation quite as difficult as the current one. Challenged in its premier task to ensure the safety of its citizens and visitors, Tunisia will miss the great income of tourism, which will have a dramatic impact on the economy. With a potential economic depression at hand and a decreasing trust in the government’s ability to protect its citizens, Tunisia is left in a highly vulnerable position.
The situation is dramatic for Tunisia, because financial difficulties and missing trust into the government lead to political instability. Time and time again, history has proven that political instability is the key ingredient to counterrevolutions and military coups. Thus, Tunisia has to be on alert to ensure the security of its citizens and remain democratic.
Now is the time for Tunisia to channel the sadness and anger over the deaths in Sousse and Tunis to protect the democratic system. All support, financial, strategic and moral, that helps the country to remain stable must be offered to Tunisia. Only then, the country can avoid turmoil and emerge stronger. It has to be the goal of Tunisian citizens and politicians that the country does not fall into violence and instability. Instead, the response to the many cruel deaths has to be a united Tunisia which grows and flourishes as a democratic state.