Tunisia’s Borders: Jihadism and Contraband
Tunis/Brussels | 28 Nov 2013
Unless the permeability of the country’s borders is addressed, cross-border trafficking will increase jihadis’ disruptive potential and intensify the corruption of border authorities.
In its latest report, Tunisia’s Borders: Jihadism and Contraband, the International Crisis Group examines the widening gap between a Tunisia of the borders – porous, rebellious, a focal point of jihad and contraband – and a Tunisia of the capital and coast that is concerned with the vulnerability of a hinterland it fears more than it understands. Beyond engaging in necessary efforts to resolve the immediate political crisis, actors from across the national spectrum should implement security and socio-economic measures to reduce the permeability of the country’s borders.
The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
The aftermath of the Tunisian uprising and of the Libyan war has provoked a reorganisation of contraband cartels, thereby weakening state control and paving the way for far more dangerous types of trafficking.
Hard drugs as well as (for now) relatively small quantities of firearms and explosives regularly enter the country from Libya. Likewise, the northern half of the Tunisian-Algerian border is becoming an area of growing traffic of cannabis and small arms.
Criminality and radical Islamism gradually are intermingling in the suburbs of major cities and in poor peripheral villages. Over time, the emergence of a so-called islamo-gangsterism could contribute to the rise of groups blending jihadism and organised crime within contraband networks operating at the borders.
Addressing border problems clearly requires beefing up security measures but these will not suffice on their own. There also is a need for dialogue with the local populations so as to improve relations between the central authorities and residents of border areas and reinforce the intelligence capacities.
“Even with the most technically sophisticated border control mechanisms, residents of border areas will remain capable of enabling or preventing the transfer of goods and people”, Michaël Béchir Ayari, Tunisia Senior Analyst. “The more they feel economically and socially frustrated, the less they will be inclined to protect the country’s territorial integrity”.
“In the long term, only consensus among political forces on the country’s future can enable a truly effective approach to the border question”, says Issandr El Amrani, North Africa Project Director. “In the meantime, Tunisian actors need to work together to reinforce border controls and improve relations between the centre and residents of border areas while Maghreb states should improve their cooperation”.