PREVENTING VIOLENT EXTREMISM AND PROMOTING DE-RADICALIZATION IN TUNISIA, ALGERIA, AND MOROCCO.
Table of Contents
Tunisia’s armed forces have been engaged in a low-intensity war against violent terrorist groups operating especially in the Tunisia-Algerian borders. The Tunisian military has been continuously launching raids against terrorist cells hiding in the Chaambi Mountains in the south of Tunisia. For instance, the Tunisian security forces along with the army launched a raid in February 2014 that ended up with killing seven militants belonging to Ansar al-Sharia, including the suspect of Chokri Belaid’s murder. Two days later, the Tunisian security forces launched another raid that led to the arrest of four militants, including the suspect of Mohamed Brahmi’s murder. In October 2014, the Tunisian forces killed six militants, including one woman, in the Northern suburbs of the capital Tunis. Since 2014, a signiﬁcant number of Ansar al-Sharia ﬁghters were killed, and hundreds were arrested. Such relative success is the corollary of various factors, including practical security reforms implemented by the different governments, new equipment for both the army and security y forces, and a public opinion that supported the security forces’ operations and openly rejected any form of violence and extremism.
Counter-violent extremism strategies have not been limited to military operations. Instead, the Tunisian authorities used an economic approach to counterterrorism, especially in the southern borders with Libya. Since the attacks on the town of Ben Guerdane in 2016, the Tunisian government has continuously strived to increase employment opportunities by creating a free trade zone in Ben Guerdane. This free trade zone aims at reducing illegal economic activities in the borders as well as increasing the economic opportunities for the youth of the region. Along similar lines, the governments also adopted a security approach in the region by increasing the number of security forces to ﬁght terrorism and illegal smuggling.
Since 2016, ﬁghting radicalization has also been adopted by the Tunisian governments using preventive measures that target extremely violent political and religious ideologies to embrace more moderate views. In 2015, the Ministry of Religious Affairs launched a new campaign targeting the Tunisian youth on social media. “We are Islam” campaign aimed at sensitizing young people to the dramatic consequences of joining violent extremist groups and encouraging them to adopt moderate religious views that help them easily and smoothly integrate within their socio-cultural environment. Accordingly, the Ministry designed a campaign with diverse content, including a website that records religious conferences and seminars along with government advertisements on social media and TV channels. The Ministry of Religious Affairs also decided to recruit new Imams and religious instructors in the mosques to spread an anti-violent discourse that discourages youth from joining extremist groups abroad and helps them acquire in-depth knowledge about Islam. The «Ministry of higher education and scientiﬁc research» has also contributed to the de-radicalization strategy. In fact, in 2017, the ministry allocated around $1 million to study the roots of radicalization and violent extremism among young Tunisians. The funding was secured thanks to a partnership between several research centers in Tunisia and foreign institutions including the U.S. Department of State. The National Strategy to counter Extremism and Terrorism also involved the young Tunisians who are in prisons. The «Tunisian directorate general of prisons and rehabilitation» established new centers. The importance of these centers is two-fold: First, they help reintegrate those who are coming back home from Syria and Libya. Second, they help the Tunisian authorities closely examine these young Tunisians to design new policies that may effectively counter violent extremism.
As far as legislation is concerned, the Tunisian parliament signed and ratiﬁed a new anti-terrorist law, published on the 7th of August 2015 in the ofﬁcial journal of the Tunisian Republic. The prime aim of the law was to deal with the Tunisian militants who are coming back home from hot spots. According to this law, any Tunisian militant who has been involved in a violent extremist group will be arrested and judged. The law was initiated by Habib Essid’s government in an attempt to calm fears over the homecoming of thousands of Tunisian jihadists. Nevertheless, the law was harshly criticized by the Tunisian civil society and a number of international non-governmental organizations, as it allows all kinds of abuses in the name of security reforms. In 2017, Amnesty International published a report in which it described the anti-terrorist law as an arbitrary, discriminatory, and repressive law that will allow security forces to rely on brutal tactics including torture, restrictions on the travel of suspects and harassment of militants’ family members. Mr. Ben Emmerson, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, shared his concerns regarding prolonged periods of detention and the use of counter- terrorist laws against journalists. He also recommended further efforts to be implemented to accelerate the judicial proceedings including providing additional human resources to the Anti-Terrorist Judiciary Pole as well as simplifying the complexities of the Tunisian judiciary system.
The terrorist threats that Tunisia has witnessed might drastically affect its democratic transition. The nature of these attacks that targeted tourists not only endangered a vital source of national income but also unveiled the critical weaknesses of the Tunisian security system.
Legal Framework in Tunisia
To ﬁnd solutions to social phenomena, any legal system needs to follow a clear vision. Therefore, mitigating youth radicalization and countering terrorism are a legal priority, especially that violent extremist groups are known for their ﬂexibility and adaptability to an ever-changing world. Therefore, Tunisia along with other countries that witnessed terrorist attacks, adapted severe deterrence strategies. These strategies have a vast popular support despite that at times it results on human right violations that mainly affect youth between the age of 18 and 35. The feebleness of the Tunisian legal system leads to human rights violations, especially that some unconstitutional laws give authorities [speciﬁcally Ministry of Interior] unconditional and unsupervised powers.
Anti-Terrorism Law The new anti-terrorism and money laundering law was criticized by human rights organizations for the lack of preventive measures that could mitigate youth radicalization. Additionally, Human rights activists noted that the adopted law does not protect children aged less than 18 years old and does not preserve the rights of youth aged between the age of 18 and 35. According to this law and unlike other crimes, people who are arrested for committing terrorist crimes would be detained for 15 days for interrogation. Furthermore, in accordance with Law N°5 of 2016, detainees cannot appoint an attorney during the ﬁrst 48 hours of their arrest. The anti-terrorism and money laundering law and in accordance with article N°31, condemns praising and glorifying terrorism and charges those who commit this crime to ﬁve years in prison. Generally, most of the detainees are young people. The ambiguous legal deﬁnition of “glorify and praise” remains intact which represents a fundamental problem that would negatively affect the rights and freedoms of many young bloggers that tend to use social medias.
The State of emergency
The decree N°50 of 26th January 1978 concerning the regulations followed in the state of emergency is still in force. The ﬁrst article of the decree mentions the cases in which the state of emergency can be declared. “The state of emergency may be declared in the entire Tunisian territory or partially in the case of an imminent threat to the public order or in the occurrence of events of grave calamity.” The decree, also, gives board powers to the Minister of Interior through the article N°5. “The Minister of Interior may place under house arrest in a certain territory or town any person who resides in one of the areas provided in article number two above, whose activity is considered to be dangerous to public order and security in those areas.” The decree speciﬁed as well the powers given to the governor to preserve public order and they are as fellow: Prohibiting people and vehicle’s movement. Preventing any strikes or attempts to disrupt work even if it is decided before the declaration of the state of emergency. Organizing people’s housing. Putting under house arrest any person who tries in any way to obscure the activities of public authorities.
Harnessing people and resources if needed for the sake of public interests that were deemed as vital to the nation’s prosperity.
Due to the beforementioned provisions, many young people remain under house arrest. According to the “Observatory of Rights and Freedoms of Tunis” association, 500 persons are placed under house arrest without any judicial supervision. However, the Ministry of Interior did not give any speciﬁc number of neither those who are placed under house arrest nor of those who are under surveillance.
Among other measures, the Tunisian authorities ban a certain group of young people from traveling to speciﬁc destinations [This measure called List S17, also, includes any young man or woman under the age of 35. They cannot travel without the permission of their guardian]. There is, also, the decision to not provide this group of young people with any ofﬁcial papers such as card N°3 (a card for criminal records), despite that this decision was revoked once and one of the young men was granted the card. These procedures apply to every person listed in the S17 list that was created by the Ministry of Interior. The list contains details about individuals who have been arrested or suspected of involvement in terrorist activities.
These procedures undermine the efforts to prevent young people from engaging in terrorist organizations. «Therefore, it showcases the weaknesses of the Tunisian legal system that adopted extreme measures instead of addressing the problem through less severe procedures; especially, when it comes to offenses related to freedom of expression» said Omar Oueslati – a Judge at the Court of First Instance in Manouba.
Despite these dreadful and horriﬁc ideas and views, the Tunisian legal system still can address this issue within an educational, cultural, and psychological framework. Hence, Tunisian legislators shall review the current legal system for the sake of providing young people with a real second chance that will allow them to reintegrate into society. Additionally, it would help them reject extremist rhetoric and renounce violent extremism.
Security challenges and international cooperation
The Tunisian government launched a program to restructure the security service through reinforcing the army’s role in ﬁghting terrorism by creating the Agency for Defense Intelligence and Security in 2015. Additionally, the Tunisian authorities launched the national Commission on Counterterrorism in 2015. In 2016, these two bodies started working together to establish the new comprehensive strategy on countering-terrorism and extremism. This strategy is inspired by European models, and it is based on the four pillars of prevention, protection, prosecution, and response to attacks. In early 2017, the Tunisian government, established the National Intelligence Centre that would help the main agents of the security sector to minimize coordination and information-sharing problems that plagued the country’s efforts to mitigate radicalization since the revolution.
The Tunisian authorities have worked on addressing the issue of under-resourcing of the Tunisian army through investing in equipment suited to these types of combats. It has, also, provided the police units with the same equipment. The Tunisian government has strengthened its borders with Libya and Algeria through enforcing a militarized buffer zone.
As part of reinforcing the security system abilities for countering terrorism, the Tunisian government showed its readiness to work with international partners on reforming and enhancing the capability of its security sector. Therefore, Tunisia is part of the G7+6 grouping along with Spain, Belgium, Turkey, Switzerland and the UN ofﬁce on Drugs and Crime. This coordination is an act of security assistance and a process dedicated to avoiding duplication of efforts. There is as well a French-Tunisian cooperation regarding sharing intelligence and providing Tunisian security with equipment. Additionally, the Tunisian authorities received help from Germany and the United States regarding border security.
In 2015, Tunisia has adopted a new anti-terrorism law. This law was put together to counter not only terrorism but also money laundering. Throughout this law the Tunisian authorities will be able to mitigate violent extremism. This law consists of 143 articles that aim at creating a balance between countering terrorism and preserving human rights.
Legislators are still debating the effectiveness of some of its provisions and their impact on human rights and civil liberties. Therefore, the law might undergo a rectiﬁcation in the near future.
One of Tunisia’s biggest challenges is the prevention of radicalization and the methods used to deal with radicalized individuals. Additionally, the Tunisian authorities appear to have no adequate policy for handling the return of the many Tunisians who left the country to ﬁght with ISIS and other jihadist groups in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. The government must as well ﬁnd effective approaches to handle the individuals whom it has prevented from traveling to join extremist groups through the processes of rehabilitation and reintegration.
The Tunisian authorities did not show any sign of adopting systematic approaches to de-radicalization. Noting that the Tunisian prison system is already malfunctioning, the Tunisian government, efforts regarding rehabilitation remain insufﬁcient.
Furthermore, individuals from Tunisia have been responsible for some fatal and major terrorist attacks in several European countries. Therefore, these attacks reﬂect the shortfalls of the Tunisian intelligence services that lacks a detailed knowledge of expatriate communities.
On the religious level, the Tunisian religious establishment remains poorly trained which hinders the Imams’ ability to provide convincing counter-radicalization discourse. According to Tunisian researchers of Islamic Studies, only 7 percent of Tunisian Imams have received religious education, while just 30 percent have a university degree.
The economic instability remains a huge problem for the Tunisian government. This economic failure is negatively impacting the mitigation efforts, especially, that the feeling of frustration, injustice, and failure, along with the lack of equal economic opportunities are among the main drivers of youth radicalization.
The Algerian strategy is based on two mechanisms: strengthening security and ﬁghting money laundering.
The authorities have upgraded the Ministry of Defense Budget to exceed 20 billion dollars annually and they worked on strengthening human resources through opening doors for recruitment in the military and law enforcement. Additionally, the Algerian government has provided the soldiers and police ofﬁcers with intensive trainings in order to polish their skills as well as it has upgraded the armory of ﬁghting terrorism through enhancing the wiretapping and intelligence system.
The Algerian security has created an updated database system to track foreign terrorists in cooperation with neighboring countries. They have adopted severe security measures in airports and sea ports in cooperation with Interpol to mitigate money laundering. Furthermore, the Algerian authorities tends to take serious measures to control money ﬂow through abstaining from transferring money to terrorists in case of kidnapping and hijacking, «We are against the payment of ransoms by certain States for the release of their kidnapped compatriots», declared Rezag Barra, Advisor to the Presidency of the Republic in March 2004.
The Algerian authorities have implemented the Amnesty and Peace Law of 2006 which reinforces the importance of integrating de-radicalized people into society. The government ofﬁcially ended the state of emergency in 2011 and, in 2015 the State rectiﬁed legislative procedures, particularly the remand’s procedure. To mitigate money laundering, the State has banned the banks from opening bank accounts with unknown identiﬁcations and asked the banks to report any suspicious activities. The government has adopted the United Nations Security Council’s resolution number 2178 which abides countries to penalize supporters of foreign terrorist fighters.
On the internal level:
The State has promoted National Amnesty as a political step to integrate disengaged and de-radicalized individuals. Additionally, they have integrated Islamists into the political life through allowing them to create parties. In 2012 the State allowed more freedoms related to political engagement; thus, around 63 political parties were created.
On the external level:
One of the main policies that the Algerian government has adopted is not intervening in other countries’ internal affairs. However, the government has cooperated with neighboring countries to ﬁnd solutions to the unrests that smear the region, and it has offered ﬁnancial aids to the security and intelligence commission in the African Union.
Algeria has helped establish the Global Counterterrorism Forum in 2011 and has participated in the Sahel Intelligence meeting with Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. Additionally, Algeria is an active member within the MENAFATF (The Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force) in order to mitigate money laundering. The Algerian State has participated in the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership program that aims at building a cooperative framework between North Africa and the Sahel region to fight terrorism.
Economic and social policies
The State has reinforced its investments within the country; in 2001 implementing three major projects and from 2011-2014 they started implementing a developing program to improve people’s livelihood. The State has allowed Islamic-oriented organizations to provide financial aid to those in needs especially in the underdeveloped areas of the country. The State has supported the social role of the mosques and therefore, allowed them to keep providing poor people with ﬁnancial aids.
The media speech and the religious approach
There is a cooperation agreement between Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Religious Affairs that aims at ﬁghting radical speech through providing religious lessons to whom interested through virtual channels as ofﬁcial websites dedicated to answer people’s questions. The State allowed speciﬁc radical parties to be engaged in the political life, however, these parties are controlled by the State. The State has obliged these parties to help its efforts to denounce radical speech, for example condemning Jihad in Syria and those who support it.
The government is encouraging media outlets to adopt a moderated speech and to condemn radical approaches as well as to denounce hate and violent speech. Additionally, the State banned media outlets and social media users from sharing and posting videos and pictures linked to terrorist activities to ﬁght the extremist propaganda.
The most important drawback of this strategy is the lack of human rights consideration and there are limitations on civil liberties.
Morocco, for instance, worked relentlessly on mitigating radicalism through establishing a mechanism that covers the religious and security aspects.
On the religious level
The government is focusing on promoting Suﬁsm as a form of Islamic mysticism that emphasizes introspection and spiritual closeness with God; love is its manifestation, poetry, music and dance are the instruments of its worship and, attaining oneness with God is its ideal. Encouraging people to embrace Sufism is believed to mitigate the effects of radicalism. It, also, engaged women as a soft power to create a moderated speech through providing them with training sessions. Additionally, the Moroccan state established “House of Islam”; an institution that functions under the Ministry of Religious Affairs and it works on establishing a moderated islamic speech and reinforcing the spiritual aspect through Suﬁsm. This institution is led by the King. The government is working on training and supervising imams in Morocco, as well as, sending supervisors to European countries such as Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark and even to North America (Canada) in order to supervise and teach the Moroccan expats about Islam. Moreover, they launched TV channels and Radio stations dedicated to religious teachings in addition to answering people’s questions to prevent them from seeking information from suspicious sources.
On the security level
Morocco established a cooperative system between the Moroccan security sectors to minimize the terrorist threats, especially after the comeback of many Moroccan ﬁghters from Syria, Iraq, and Sahel region. The government, also, worked on the reintegration of the detained terrorists into Moroccan society through the launching of the Amnesty Initiative led by King Mohammed 6. This initiative would allow terrorists who expressed their readiness to abandon radical doctrines and embrace more moderated Islamic one to be able to have a chance at being part of Moroccan society. Furthermore, there is cooperation between the «Moroccan prison administration» and the League of Muhammadiyah Scholars at one hand and the UN development program in other hand, for the purpose of mitigating radical speech and help spread an Islamic moderated speech. Additionally, Morocco established a cooperative system with other African countries. This system is based on exchanging personnel and intelligence information. Therefore, this cooperation is a success for it helped abort many terrorist plans.
However, there are several drawbacks to this strategy, for its lack of legal and judicial aspects which open doors to illegal practices that impose restrictions on civil liberties. The level of inequality and unemployment is high in Morocco. However, the country is doing little to address these issues, especially since the concentration of radicalized individuals is generally in economically deprived urban areas. The only legal reform would be the introduction of longer prison sentences for public protest and online activities as well as restricting civic and political freedoms. These drawbacks might affect Moroccan efforts to mitigate the impacts of radicalization.