The Spectacle Blog

Is al Qaeda a Factor in Tunisia?

By on 1.19.11 | 12:30PM

A few days ago, I posted my thoughts on the political situation in Tunisia.

Today, I came across a reply to my post written by Daniel Larison in The American Conservative. Larison agrees with my assertion that whomever succeeds the Ben Ali regime won't necessarily be an improvement. However, he takes issue with my other assertion that this could present an opportunity for al Qaeda to assert its influence and impose Sharia law. Larison writes:

First of all, the main question is not whether the so-called Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb will try to "assert its influence," which is minimal, and the group is in no position politically or militarily to impose anything on Tunisia. The real question is this: is Ghannouchi's interim government going to be accepted by the protesters as an acceptable caretaker until new parliamentary elections? If not, and if the protests escalate against the entire regime associated with Ben Ali, there is no telling what might happen next, but a military coup becomes more likely.

I have little quarrel with Larison's analysis and I certainly hope he's right about al Qaeda not having a strong foothold in Tunisia. This article on Magharebia seems to support Lairson's argument. Nevertheless, I am not one to underestimate the capacity of al Qaeda to create terror. Indeed, Lairson does not discount the possibility "they couldn't try to cause some disruptions and launch some attacks inside Tunisia." Given Tunisia's current state of affairs, a single successful attack by al Qaeda in Tunisia could be all that it takes to move them from being a marginal to a major player in Tunisian politics.

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