On March 29, eleven days following the March 18 terrorist attack on Tunisia’s National Bardo Museum, tens of thousands flocked to the streets in a display of solidarity against the Islamic State militants who claimed responsibility for the attack. French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and other world leaders joined the demonstrators as they united under slogans of “Together against terrorism,” “Tunisia is free! Terrorism Out!” and “The world is Bardo.”
Twenty-two in total were killed in the attack, including one Tunisian police officer and twenty-one tourists hailing from Britain, Japan, Italy, France, Colombia and other countries. Forty-two people were also wounded in the attack, a large portion of whom were also tourists. Tunisian authorities reportedly killed nine armed militants in connection with the attack in an anti-terror raid on March 28. This included Lokman Abu Sakhra, who allegedly led the attack on the Bardo Museum.
The terrorist attack will likely have implications in the wider region beyond rallying the international community behind the growing anti-terrorism momentum. Tunisian Foreign Minister Taieb Bacchouche has decided to resume diplomatic relations with Syria in the aftermath of the attack, which may signal a shift in priorities relating to regional peace and security. Diplomatic ties were initially severed between the two countries in response to the actions of the Assad regime in the Syrian conflict. As the Syrian conflict enters its fifth year, the renewed focus on terrorism in the region has the potential to reshape the strategies of governments worldwide that are attempting to tackle issues in Syria and the broader Middle East.
The demonstration itself served to poignantly highlight the challenges and paradoxes resulting from recent history in the region. By taking to the streets once again, Tunisians led observers to note the stark contrast between the anti-terrorism march and the Arab Spring demonstrations of 2011. Tunisia has since been regarded as a model of democratic transition in the Arab world, but it remains unclear what this means for the security and stability of the state. The country has seen an increase in ultra-conservative Islamists since its 2011 revolution, and the new democratic safeguards have guaranteed these groups’ freedom of speech, potentially helping to remove some barriers to the recruitment of jihadists. The attack has also raised fears about a return to the pre-2011 repression as a byproduct of anti-terrorism measures enacted in the wake of the attack.