Four years after the Arab Spring, Tunisia is an exceptional example of democracy compared to its neighboring Arab states. As one of the most educated and cosmopolitan populations in the Middle East, Tunisia succeeded at managing its law and order after the revolution and is having its second free elections this month. However, Tunisia’s exceptionally positive status takes a different form regarding the issue of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS); Tunisia has the biggest number of young and educated supporters of ISIS, who choose to move to Syria and join the Islamic State.
This doesn’t come across as a surprise considering the fact that not many changes have occurred after the revolution. In spite of having a new constitution that provides protection of rights, citizens are still demanding change of social and domestic policies. Such policies can raise the level of living conditions and provide the Tunisian population with the social justice it demanded during the Arab Spring. In spite of having an inexpensive and beneficial higher education, general scarcity of jobs in Tunisia leads newly college graduates to take extreme measures.
While ISIS is seen as a threatening terrorist group in the United States and other parts of the world, these young adults look at ISIS from a social point of view. The Islamic State managed to have de facto social policies; it provides food, water and shelter to the citizens and promotes family values. These different elements result in the perception of ISIS as place where social justice is reality, which leads to the growing support of young Tunisians.
Despite the fact that the biggest number of fighters supporting ISIS is from Tunisia, one should keep in mind that this group of supporters is a very small minority among the Tunisian population. Additionally, most of these supporters don’t agree with the actions of ISIS, but with its vision; the Caliphate State. The current borders of the Arab states were drawn by the British and the French colonizers post the First World War. This division of land is often seen as artificial and forced. The vision of ISIS promises a pan-Arab state which is ruled by the law of Sharia. This vision can result in the oppression of different religious minority, but it is still praised by some. Young Muslim Tunisians who join the Islamic State clearly don’t oppose its vision, however, that doesn’t mean that these supporters join ISIS to fight. Most of these supporters join only as a result of the “social justice” notion that their own State is lacking, and when asked to fight, some of these young Tunisians choose to go back home instead. Moreover, another sector of Tunisian supporters decide to go back to Tunisia after living the reality of the Islamic State, which, in itself, has multiple ideological, political and religious divisions. The overall not-so-ideal situation of the Islamic State results in the return of many of these supporters.
When looking at the reality of Arab states, one shouldn’t blame these young, educated Tunisians for choosing to move to the Islamic State. This choice is merely an economic one; the Islamic State is a rare opportunity when it comes to economic development, respectful living standards and social justice in the area. Accordingly, the Islamic State seems like a great place to live, keeping in mind that you’re a heterosexual Sunni Muslim male who keeps his thoughts to himself.