Tunisia: murder of holidaymakers could dent tourism but not hope

The slaughter of sunbathers and hotel staff on the beaches of a country that has always prided itself as a carefree, laid-back destination for package holidaymakers has dealt a huge blow to Tunisia.

The small north African country lit the first spark of the Arab spring four years ago, when its popular uprising toppled a corrupt dictatorship relatively peacefully. It is often looked to as the hope of the region. Unlike its troubled neighbours, it has managed to keep its political transition on course — crafting a new constitution, staging free presidential and parliamentary elections.

But with a struggling post-revolution economy that depends in large part on its beach resorts and foreign visitors, it was already facing the serious ongoing challenges of how to tackle unemployment, social unrest and strikes, and how to address the feeling among the poorest and the young that their demands, which inspired the revolution — the need for social justice, jobs and the fight to end corruption — are yet to be fully achieved.

In recent months, Tunisia was already grappling with a growing jihadi problem. Thousands of its young men — more than any other Arab country — have gone to fight in Syria, and porous borders with Libya and Algeria have raised the stakes. Yet the Sousse attack seems to cement a troubling new pattern.

“I think the effect of this will be even more serious than the effect of the Bardo attack in March,” said Monica Marks, a North Africa analyst based in Tunis. “Not all tourists who come to Tunisia want to visit the Bardo museum: a lot more — particularly the German and British — are Vitamin D tourists who want to spend time on the beach.

Tunisia prides itself on its continuing resilience in the face of its post-revolution challenges, including political assassinations and the jihadi threat. The Sousse attack is one of its biggest challenges yet.