By Tim Marshall.
There are no silver linings in the clouds of death brought by Seifeddine Rezgui in Sousse last week. There are however, reasons to believe that despite the slaughter, and its precursor in March at the Bardo Museum, Tunsia can still be the only country caught in the upheavals in the Arab world since 2011, which has a chance of becoming a genuine democracy.
Tunisia is a clearly defined geographic entity with a homogeneous society, which has mostly resisted attempts to inject the poison of jihadist ideas into the body politic.
Of its 11 million people 98% are Arabs, and of those 99% are Sunni Muslim with no deep sectarian divisions. There are no meaningful separatist movements.
This cohesiveness, and the fact there is still a functioning state gives Tunisia the basis for stability, even if the foundations could crumble under a sustained assault.
The Ben Ali dictatorship (1987-2011) crushed most attempts by Islamists, jihadist or otherwise, to gain a foothold through ruthless suppression. When it was overthrown, in the first of the Arab upheavals, the ensuing chaos gave the salafists an opportunity.
With the Interior Ministry temporarily weakened, money and ideas found the gaps in security. For long periods of time there were often no police on the streets of rural towns at all. The collapse of neighbouring Libya helped Tunisian militant groups such as Ansar al-Sharia and the Uqba ibn Nafi Brigade secure a foothold.
The following year the first signs of a growing terrorism movement emerged, especially in the Kasserine region that borders Algeria, itself a hot bed of violent Islamist activity. The capital, Tunis, was not spared sporadic bouts of violence.
The first election following 2011 saw an Islamist party, Ennedha, come to power. Ennahda does not support violence, but nor did it take a hard line on the increasing spread of salifist ideas. However, the Interior Ministry and other branches of the state were busy recovering their concentration, and by the time a new Government was elected late last year they were in a position to increase pressure on the militants.
The government is led by the Call for Tunisia party, which, for better or worse, includes a number of politicians from the Ben Ali years including Prime Minister Habib Essid who was a former Interior Ministry official in the dictatorship. It has been smart enough to allow Ennahda positions in a unity coalition government.
So, the building blocks are in place for Tunisia to be able to hold off the terrorist challenge from Daesh inspired gangs, however, it will be a formidable challenge and the country will need help. 15% of the economy is tourism based. Given that this is now taking a battering, the knock on effects for the one in ten of the workforce employed in tourism, and their families, will exacerbate existing problems.
The moment you leave the urban areas, poverty and unemployment rates, rise (dramatically) and literacy rates fall in what are usually the more conservative regions of Tunisia. This is fertile land for the terrorist ideologues to sow their propaganda.
There will be more terrorism in Tunisia, indeed in almost every single Arab country, but compared to Libya, Iraq, the Sinai region of Egypt, Yemen, and elsewhere, it can probably be better contained. If so,Tunisia, the poster boy of the misnamed Arab spring, has a chance.