Will Tunisia ever be the same again?

Deadly Bardo museum attack has spread shock waves in country largely sheltered from unrest that hit Arab Spring nations.

Tunisia Museum Attack protested in Tunis

Tunisia is a young democracy with an ancient civilisation. There is no better symbol of that than Bardo, where the national museum and parliament are located. The museum, the largest in the country, contains many priceless works.

Among them are some of the most beautiful Roman mosaics in the world, and items dating back more than 40,000 years. In those terrifying hours on Wednesday, when the Bardo was attacked, those same corridors echoed with the sound of gunfire.

There were hundreds of people inside at the time. Many were forced to run for their lives, or hide, as they were hunted down.

There was one previous attack on civilians in Tunisia. At least 19 people were killed in 2002, in a suicide bombing at the Ghriba synagogue in Djerba in the south. However, what happened at Bardo is the first of its kind because it was specifically targeting foreigners and took place in the capital Tunis.

Amine Ghali, Program Director of Al Kawakibi Democracy Transition Centre, believes: “It was not just targeting Tunisia. It was targeting humanity, a symbol of humanity.”

Up until recently, Tunisia managed to remain relatively sheltered from the chaos that has engulfed other Arab Spring countries.

That is partly because this small country has no real history of conflict or arms. Moreover, it has no history of tribal or sectarian divides.

It also has few natural resources, and has played a neutral role in regional conflicts – in Libya for example it has consulates in both Tripoli and in Benghazi.

Politically it was turning an important corner in its transition to democracy. There were free and fair elections at the end of last year.

I remember meeting Fouad El Hedi, a voter who had just cast his ballot. Like most of the people at the polling station Fouad was old enough to remember life in a state where political opposition or freedom of speech was not tolerated.

It was the first time Fouad had ever voted in a presidential election. I was struck by his excitement and optimism that investment would now flow back into the country.

The scenes at Bardo reminded me of the attack on Westgate, a Nairobi shopping mall in September 2013. It was a day that changed Kenya; the last time I visited the country in September 2014, people there told me they were still afraid of another similar attack.

Tunisia will also never be the same; this isn’t just about tourism and the economy. In a way it has lost its innocence.

There will now be security at most hotels and tourist locations. More people will be stopped and searched, and there are fears the security forces will gain even more powers.

Those behind this attack want to polarize the country. It is up to the Tunisian people to make sure they stand united, and not divided.

Source: Al Jazeera