US Sees ‘Al-Qaeda Threat’ in Tunisia

Islamists Increasingly Dominate Politics, But AQIM's Influence Unclear

by Jason Ditz, March 27, 2013

Islamists of various sects are increasingly ruling the roost in post Arab Spring Tunisia, with the moderate Islamists dominating the parliament and Ansar al-Sharia, a banned Salafist faction, demanding the ouster of those seen as insufficiently conservative.

Secular opposition figure Shokri Belaid’s assassination earlier this year has set the stage for all kinds of political infighting, and a rushed schedule to hold new elections under the constitution.

The US African Command (AFRICOM) seems to be using this to push for more involvement in the country, arguing that this amounts to an attempt by al-Qaeda to establish a presence in the nation.

Yet the local flavor of al-Qaeda, which is al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), has so far seemed confined primarily to Algeria and northern Mali, and rhetoric aside there is no evidence they have serious influence in Tunisia. Since AQIM is itself just a re-branded version of the Algerian rebels, their interests have been primarily local, as have a number of other Islamist factions.

Many of these groups may have similar ideologies, but with their interests focused inside their own nations, they aren’t necessarily good recruitment targets for al-Qaeda’s global vision, and the AFRICOM warning seems more about reiterating that they perceive “threats” in virtually every nation than a realistic assessment of the situation.

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