On 18 March, Tunisia’s Bardo National Museum was attacked by two Tunisian gunmen in military uniform who shot 21 tourists dead, before being killed by security forces. The Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for this attack that could initially have been targeted at Bardo’s adjacent Parliament building. This is the worst terrorist act hitting Tunisia since an Al-Qaeda’s suicide attack in Djerba in 2002. While hundreds of radical militants had been arrested earlier this year, several others – including the head of main Tunisian jihadist group Okba Ibn Nafaa - have been killed by government forces since the Bardo attack and a dozen arrested related to the museum attack. End of March, under high security, thousands of people including several foreign leaders such as the French President demonstrated in Tunis to reject terrorism and defend national unity.

Impact on country risk

The attack, striking by the fact that it occurred in the capital city, highlights the many challenges Tunisia is facing to preserve its peculiarity of being the only Arab country able to install a democratic government after the 2011 Arab uprising. The necessary economic recovery is essential for the government to keep legitimacy but the rising terrorist threat will make its task difficult to fulfil. The economy is indeed first reliant on tourism which is dependent on stability and security. Terrorist attacks could therefore hit tourism prospects, together with investments, and potentially lead Credendo Group to downgrade political and commercial risks if those threats materialise in the future. The terrorist risk is to be found inside the country, with Tunisia being among the biggest suppliers of jihadists (estimated at 3,000) to Arab conflicts, and outside in Libya where the two terrorists received military training. The risk is that current chaos in Libya allows radical groups, particularly the IS, to set up a regional base and increasingly perpetrate attacks on (notably) Tunisia’s soil and fuel instability and radicalism. In this context, one can expect Tunisian authorities to tighten security by targeting radical but also moderate Islamists, which in the current climate, would probably be welcomed by a majority. However, in the medium term, it might eventually threaten national unity and thus political stability that rests on a broad coalition.

Analyst: Raphaël Cecchi, r.cecchi@credendogroup.com