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Terror In Tunisia: Tourist Deaths On The Beaches Of Sousse Will Kick-Start A Crisis

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By Rory McCarthy:

Just two months after the shooting of 22 holidaymakers in the Bardo museum in Tunis, Tunisia has been attacked again. On June 26, two gunmen opened fire and killed at least 38 people on the beaches of Sousse. Most of the victims were foreign tourists – making this both a human tragedy and a profound challenge to Tunisia’s fledgling democracy. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Tunisian security forces in Sousse. EPA/STR
Tunisian security forces in Sousse. EPA/STR

This new attack is the worst terrorist incident in the country’s history, and means Tunisia’s vital tourism industry will now be gravely weakened. The once-hopeful democratic transition is also in danger, with growing calls for a tougher security policy.

The attackers opened fire on the beaches of two hotels in Port El Kantaoui, at the northern end of a long coastline of beachfront hotels that runs through the city of Sousse. This area is the most important destination for package holidays in Tunisia.

Tunisia’s tourism minister, Selma Elloumi, called the Sousse attack a “catastrophe” and admitted there was no way to ensure “zero risk”. According to one assessment, revenue from tourism and related industries accounted for up to 14.9% of the Tunisian economy in 2014. Even if the tourist industry had begun to recover four years after the Arab uprisings of 2011, then the Bardo shooting in March 2015 and now the Sousse attacks will surely kick start a long-term crisis.

But despite its record loss of life, the latest attack was not entirely unprecedented.

Escalating violence

Sousse has been targeted before, apparently because it attracts so many tourists. Hotels in Sousse were bombed in 1987, at the height of a clash between the Tunisian regime and the Islamist movement. Then in October 2013 a suicide bomber killed himself on the beach outside a downtown Sousse hotel in a failed terror attack.

Sousse is not just a tourist destination. It has played an important role in the country’s history, producing many of the administrative elite who have run Tunisia since independence in 1956. Former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was himself from Hammam Sousse, a northern suburb close to the scene of the attacks.

The city has a secular middle class, but also significant support for the moderate Islamist movement Ennahdha – I spent a year in the city interviewing Ennahdha activists about the history and evolution of their movement. It also has large, impoverished suburbs filled with Tunisians who have travelled from the poorer towns and villages of the interior in search of work.

The RIU Hotel Imperial Marhaba, where the attack unfolded. EPA

 As in other poor urban areas in the country, there has been significant Salafist radicalisation here, dating back even to before the 2011 uprising. While these shootings were apparently the work of Islamic State, Tunisia has also been facing an insurgent campaign by supporters of a smaller Tunisian militant group, Uqba ibn Nafi, which is linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. They have been mounting attacks against the military and security forces since late 2012.

Some interesting research suggests there could be a process of “outbidding” underway between al-Qaeda’s proxy force and Islamic State – and indeed, this latest attack suggests the latter is trying to step up its activities inside the country as part of its wider campaign of violence.

Old ways

The decisions the Tunisian government makes in the coming weeks will determine the fate of country’s already fragile transition to democracy. Although the Ben Ali regime was toppled in a popular uprising in January 2011, many of the political and economic interests of the former regime remain intact and the judiciary and security forces remain largely unreformed. The deep state is still at work. There has been a knee-jerk tendency to resort to authoritarian measures in the name of security and stability, and a backslide into the state’s old ways is still a risk.

That much was made clear when, after the attack, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi travelled to Sousse to meet the survivors and promisedpainful but necessary” measures would follow. Mohsen Marzouk, an advisor to Essebsi and now the head of his Nidaa Tounes party, which leads the coalition government, called for the creation of new private sector security forces, and said: “We are at war and we must apply the law firmly.”

Already the government has drafted a bill that would jail any Tunisian found to have “denigrated” the armed forces. Human Rights Watch warned that the bill did not meet international human rights standards, and is also concerned about a new law on judicial reform that fails to give the judiciary sufficient independence from the executive.

Other politicians have proposed a national congress to discuss a national strategy to confront the terrorist challenge and popular marches against terrorist violence. But there is still no clear strategy to confront this worsening security crisis and declining economic situation. The damage done to the tourism industry follows waves of workers’ strikes that have also affected the important phosphate mining industry in the south.

There is hope that Tunisia will yet overcome these challenges, just as it has overcome many others since 2011. Politicians have always found a way to negotiate consensus solutions every time a crisis has threatened this hopeful and extraordinary transition to democracy – but that task is becoming ever harder.

This article has been updated to reflect Islamic State’s claim of responsibility.

The ConversationRory McCarthy is DPhil Candidate in Oriental Studies at University of Oxford.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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