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It is well known now that there are indeed foreign fighters in Syria. It is not yet though a full-fledged foreign jihad and mainly a Syrian contest. Estimates are difficult to come by, but journalists and news sources suggest numbers are at the very least currently in line with estimates from the Bosnian conflict (~1,000) in the 1990s and have yet to reach the levels of Afghanistan in the 1980s (~5,000-20,000) or Iraq this past decade (~4,000-5,000). While the number of foreign fighters in Syria is relatively small compared to Iraq, the rate of the influx is much higher. Most have joined up only in the past 6-8 months. If the conflict in Syria drags on, it will greatly outstrip Iraq. Each conflict though is of course different and within them there have been differing types of foreign fighters that have joined up.

The Syrian Conflict and Limitations

The Syrian conflict has confounded some of the assumptions on foreign fighters regarding conflicts of the Muslim world from the past 30 years. This is because earlier paradigms focused mainly on different shades of Salafis that joined the fight since they were the overwhelming majority. In this way, with regard to Syria, there is a portion of non-Islamist and secular Muslims who are riding the wave of the Arab uprisings and therefore do not necessarily fit in previous schemas. These individuals fought their tyrants at home, some then moved onto Libya to assist in the fight against Qadhafi, while others only came to Syria as their first exogenous action. For instance, recently, a Libyan by the name of Firas told the AFP “in the Libyan revolution, many Syrians fought on our side, so it is now time to return the favor.”

In an overall sense, though, there are major limitations in capturing the percentages of foreign fighters from a variety of ideological and motivational categories. The very nature of tracking foreign fighters will always only provide a snapshot. War makes it difficult to distinguish differing actors since there becomes an overlap effect. A basic spectrum, though, can help provide a map to better under the differing trends.

Typology of Foreign Fighters

Tourists:

These individuals go abroad to help fight with their fellow Muslim brethren and are moved by altruistic motivations. Once the conflict ends they go home and continue their normal lives. This category is where many of the Arab youth of the uprisings fit in. More prominently, are the Libyans in Syria. They are most associated with the Irish-Libyan commander Mehdi Harati, formerly of the Tripoli Brigade in the fight against Qadhafi in Libya and currently the leader of Liwa’ al-Ummah in Syria.

Tribal:

These individuals go abroad because of familial ties that stretch borders. The cases of the tribes on the Syrian-Iraqi border are most notable. Tribesmen have now reversed the flow of their smuggling operations from during the time of the Iraq war.

Jihadis:

There are two main types of foreign jihadis within Syria: homeward bound revolutionaries and outward bound revolutionaries. The former is interested in overthrowing their local “apostate” regime. Homeward bound revolutionaries go to the areas of war to hone their skills and train fighters for their future battle against their state. The latter once the conflict ends will move onto another country where a non-Muslim military is occupying a Muslim territory. The end goal is to return all formerly run Muslim territory back to Muslims. Among these outward bound revolutionaries are a subset that are associated with al-Qaeda’s ideology and worldview and are motivated by not only attacking the West and local apostate regimes, but setting up enclaves or emirates governed by their interpretation of the sharia and to eventually grow into a reestablished Caliphate.

There is only one known foreign fighter-dominated jihadi organization in Syria at this juncture: Fatah al-Islam, fighting under the banner of the al-Khilafah Brigade. Fatah al-Islam is the Lebanese-based organization, which is most known for its fight with the Lebanese military at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in May and June 2007 and later moved to the Ain al-Hilweh camp as a base. While not all Lebanese foreign fighters are associated with Fatah al-Islam, its leader Abdel Ghani Jawhar died in April 2012 constructing a bomb in Syria. Fatah al-Islam has also taken responsibility for two major operations: killing less than thirty Syrian soldiers in rural Aleppo on July 18 and ambushing Syrian army tanks and killing more than thirty in al-Qastal on July 22.

While many news outlets have reported that al-Qaeda in Iraq has infiltrated the Syrian rebellion, there has yet to be any proof that they are currently operating there. It is possible that members in individual capacities have joined up in the fight, but organizationally this has yet to occur, but could happen in the coming months. There is one organization in Syria that has been carrying the flag for the global jihadi movement: Jabhat al-Nusrah, which was founded in January 2012. Currently there are no confirmed figures on how many members they have, but news reports suggest that they have a few hundred and some among them are foreign fighters including Lebanese, Jordanians and Iraqis. Foreign jihadis are also believed to be fighting with Kata’ib Ahrar ash-Sham. The jihadi forums have also announced more than thirty martyrdom notices for foreigners since the beginning of the year.

Implications

The first two foreign fighter categories are difficult to pin down currently because they are not organized in the same way as jihadis and far lower key in their efforts. This is also why many have had a difficult time ascertaining differences among foreign fighters and painting them all as hardcore jihadis. The concern in terms of counterterrorism is that the longer the Syria civil war festers there is potential for the overall radicalization of the rebel movement. It is also possible that as the rebels and foreign fighters get more radicalized they could become more susceptible to jihadi ideology that is sympathetic to the worldview of al-Qaeda. That being said, at this point, there is no evidence that jihadis are at the head of the rebellion – they are mainly force-multipliers insofar as experience and expertise in bomb making from past “jihads” procuring funding and weaponry through their networks, and in tactical skill in combat.

Recommendations

Distinguishing among the different types of foreign fighters is important for developing sound policy, especially when thinking about what happens after the conflict against the Assad regime ends.

It is thus crucial for Washington to begin working closely with its allies in Ankara, Beirut, Baghdad, and Amman to help locate any potential fighters with ill intentions when passing through their countries returning home or off to another conflict zone. At the same time, it is important to not make the mistakes of post-Afghanistan 2001 where some individuals were arrested and jailed without actually being associated with a terrorist or insurgent organization. The task will not be easy, but care needs to be put into place so as not to cause a further backlash.

In this light, Washington along with its European counterparts should encourage local governments of the region to provide amnesty to individuals that return in good standing and want to return to their past occupations or even enticing individuals by providing them with jobs in the military or local police force. Washington should also discourage the scenario that enfolded in Yemen when former president Ali Abdullah Salih used “Afghan Arabs” against his enemies in the south in the 1990s after they returned. The use of ex-foreign fighters for local governments’ own ends, as militias, should not be tolerated.

Additionally, Washington ought to continue its pursuit of further deepening intelligence ties with governments of the region to help stem any potential attacks within or originating from a particular country. This is crucial because as noted in “The Wandering Mujahidin: Armed and Dangerous,” an August 1993 declassified report by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), which examined the fallout from the anti-Soviet jihad, showed that the information passed and logistical and financial networks established in the crucible of the war helped spur new avenues for other fights in the Muslim world and the West once the Soviets left Afghanistan.

One potential area of concern and backlash is attempting to work with the current rebels and future government of Syria. As a consequence of not assisting the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and many battalions, which are currently being helped by a contingent of foreign fighters as well as jihadi elements, the future Syria government might not be willing to work with Washington to rid the country of these individuals. At the very least, as the influx of foreign fighters continues, it is necessary for Washington along with its allies to start preparing to contain whatever fallout might occur in the aftermath of Assad’s fall.

 

There is a new trend sweeping the world of jihadism. Instead of adopting unique names, groups increasingly prefer to call themselves ansar, Arabic for “supporters.” In many cases, they style themselves Ansar al-Sharia – supporters of Islamic law — emphasizing their desire to establish Islamic states. Yet despite the fact that these groups share a name and an ideology, they lack a unified command structure or even a bandleader like the central al Qaeda command (or what’s left of it), thought to be based in Pakistan. They are fighting in different lands using different means, but all for the same end, an approach better suited for the vagaries born of the Arab uprisings.

The name Ansar al-Sharia shot into the news last week in the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, when the local organization Katibat Ansar al-Sharia was accused of perpetrating it — charges the group denied. Many reports seem to have confused Benghazi’s Ansar al-Sharia with another Libyan group, based in Derna.

The naming trend actually started in Yemen, when al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the powerful and ambitious local al Qaeda branch, established the front group Ansar al-Sharia in Yemen in April 2011. It is possible this was born out of Osama bin Laden’s musings over whether to rebrand al Qaeda. None of the names in the documents captured from the late al Qaeda leader’s compound mentioned Ansar al-Sharia as a potential example, however. More recently, one of the preeminent global jihadi ideologues, Shaykh Abu al-Mundhir al-Shinqiti, put his stamp of approval on the new wave of Ansar al-Sharia groups.

Shinqiti, who is of Mauritanian origin, published an article in mid-June titled “We Are Ansar al-Sharia,” calling Muslims to establish their own dawa (missionary) Ansar al-Sharia groups in their respective countries and then to unite into one conglomerate. It should be noted that most of the Ansar al-Sharia groups were already created beforehand. The most prominent of these organizations are the ones in Yemen, Tunisia, and Libya, along with newer versions in Egypt and Morocco to a lesser extent.

The rise of these Ansar al-Sharia groups points to an end of al Qaeda’s unipolar global jihad of the past decade and a return to a multipolar jihadosphere, similar to the 1990s. One key difference, however is that jihadi groups are now more ideologically homogenous — in the 1990s, jihadis thought locally and acted locally, while many now talk globally and act locally. These newer groups are also more interested in providing services and governance to their fellow Muslims.

Distinguishing between these differing groups is crucial for better understanding the new landscape of the Middle East and North Africa, as well as the trajectory of new salafi-jihadi groups that are not necessarily beholden to al Qaeda’s strategies or tactics. Although there are no known formal or operational links between these disparate organizations, it is possible they may try to link up in the future based on ideological affinity and similar end goals. For now, though, conflating them would be premature. Here’s a guide to the major groups going by this name.

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The tragic death of the American ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and his colleagues, along with the breach of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, may lead some Americans to question, in light of such horrific attacks, the United States’ future relationship with these countries.

It is important to place these events in context. The United States has long dealt with Middle Eastern governments in which a segment of their populations have harbored anti-American sentiments.

In the past, these countries’ leaders were not beholden to anyone, but the challenge now is how to work with democratically elected officials who must take into account their constituents’ views. This will indeed make relations more complicated. This is especially the case in Egypt, as was seen by the weak response of Egyptian president Muhammad Morsi, who seemed more concerned about the alleged video than with the attack on the U.S. Embassy. Relations will be tense in the days and weeks ahead because of the apparent alignment of religious populism and the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempt to cover its flank from the Salafis. As a result, over time it will likely become more difficult for the United States to work as cooperatively with the Egyptian government as it has in the past. While the United States has economic aid leverage over Egypt, there are inherent limits to American power, especially in the face of a Muslim Brotherhood-led government hostile and opposed to American interests and values.

On the other side of the spectrum is Libya. Unlike Egypt, Libya’s new Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur issued a strong statement supporting the United States and calling for the unity of the two countries in dealing with the menace of violent extremism. Similarly, there was a demonstration in Benghazi and Tripoli today rallying support for the U.S. Consulate, as well as praising Ambassador Stevens for his work with the leadership. This is compared with the Muslim Brotherhood’s call for more demonstrations in Egypt against the film this Friday.

This episode provides a window into how relations with countries in the new Middle East might take shape. The United States should engage with the countries that want to continue to work in tandem, while treading carefully and cautiously with others, where relations will be more problematic and tenuous. In short, each country of the Middle East and

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The tragic death of U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other diplomatic personnel in yesterday’s attack on the American consulate in Benghazi was the latest episode of violence attributed to Islamist extremists in Libya. A small contingent of local jihadists has emerged since Muammar Qadhafi’s ouster, and they have applauded the recent attacks, though it is not clear how much responsibility they bear for carrying them out. The growth of such groups is a worrisome development that reinforces the importance of active U.S. engagement with the new Libyan authorities.

LIBYAN JIHADISM BEFORE THE WAR

Prior to the 2011 uprising, the country’s main organized jihadist movement, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, had already deradicalized and retired. Founded after the anti-Soviet jihad, the LIFG attempted to overthrow the Qadhafi regime in the mid-1990s but began to move away from armed conflict in 2006. In 2009, the group’s shura council members — some in Libyan prison, others in exile in Europe — negotiated an end to conflict with the regime via Qadhafi’s son Saif al-Islam. The minority that disagreed with that decision joined al-Qaeda in Pakistan, leaving no organized presence in Libya. Therefore, on the eve of last year’s war, organized violent jihadism in Libya was more or less extinct.

Once the uprising began, the LIFG stuck to its word and did not return to jihadist activities, even changing its name to the Libyan Islamic Movement for Change. As the rebellion unfolded, however, many members of the group joined the armed resistance, where they drew on their prior combat experience; most prominently, LIFG figure Abdul Hakim Belhaj became head of the Tripoli Military Council.

Following Qadhafi’s fall, the LIFG split into two political factions that contested the July 2012 legislative elections: the broad-based moderate party Hizb al-Watan (HW), which Belhaj joined, and the smaller, more conservative and Islamist-tinged Hizb al-Umma al-Wasat (HUW), which most other LIFG members joined under the leadership of prominent figure Sami al-Saadi. HW did not win any seats in the election, while HUW garnered one, which was allocated to Abdul Wahhab al-Qaed, brother of the late Abu Yahya al-Libi, a senior al-Qaeda figure.

NEW LOCAL GROUPS

Even as LIFG put down its arms after the war and joined the political process, new jihadist groups began to emerge once the dust settled. One of the largest is Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi (ASB), led by Muhammad Zahawi. In addition to online connections with the Ansar al-Sharia group in Tunisia, ASB has ties to several smaller Salafi-jihadistkatibas (battalions) in Libya, including the shadowy Ansar al-Sharia in Darnah (ASD), led by former Guantanamo Bay inmate Abu Sufyan bin Qumu. Many of these katibas participated in the ASB’s first “annual conference” this June; based on photos from the event, as many as a thousand individuals attended.

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Over the past decade U.S. drone strikes have killed between 1,800 and 3,100 people in Pakistan, along with hundreds more in drone attacks in Yemen and Somalia, as a result of the United States’ efforts to combat al-Qaeda and its affiliates. The rise in strikes since the beginning of the Obama administration, and the growing stridency of questions surrounding the legal, moral, and practical efficacy of the program, have led to a lively debate among the commentariat. This debate is indeed important, but it is also crucial to understand how the drone program has affected the jihadis, and how jihadis have deployed the issue of drones in their propaganda. This is a necessary part of gaining a wider understanding of whether the program is a worthwhile endeavor.

Surprisingly, one does not see much discussion of drones by al-Qaeda Central (AQC), or by the Taliban (though it is possible that individuals in these groups are talking more about this in face-to-face encounters than online). Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), on the other hand, has exploited the drone issue extensively in the newsletter put out by their front group, Ansar al-Shari’ah (AS). As a result, question of whether drones are drawing more individuals into the arms of AQAP has been raised frequently in the past year.

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Since Tunisians overthrew former president Ben Ali’s regime in January 2011, its transition to democracy has been pointed to as a shining example in contrast to more tenuous situations in Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Libya. While the elections for its constituent assembly went off without a hitch in October 2011, the past six months have proven far more contentious and difficult. A political, economic, and security malaise has cast a shadow over the prospects of a Tunisia living up to its expectation of providing a positive pathway to the rest of the region for transitioning to first stable and most progressive Arab democratic state.

Although many have worried about the rise in Salafism in Tunisia, there have been more immediate concerns over the shape and contours surrounding Tunisia’s future political arrangements. The constitution that was originally to be finished this October, a year after the elections has been reported will now be moved back to March 2013. Tunisian officials have yet to change the date of the next parliamentary elections, which are supposed to be at the same time as the completion of the constitution in March. Campaigning while completing a document that will provide the framework for Tunisia’s future is not the most effective way to secure a reasonable and non-politicized document.

Most troubling about the process of writing the constitution as well as developing a competitive political system is the fraying of secular and liberal parties. Party defections and individuals quitting their parties have decimated the two parties, CPR and Ettaktol, whom are in a coalition with the leading Islamist party Ennahda. This has put a wrench in the ability for these groups to apply pressure from the left to moderate Ennahda’s position. Without it, Ennahda has only had to worry about its right flank: the more conservative Islamist and Salafis parties Jabhat al-Islah and Hizb ut-Tahrir as well as the less moderate elements within its own party.

Without a strong secular and liberal opposition the idea of a moderate Islamist party becomes less likely when the only true challenge comes from the right. The failure of the secular/liberals to unite has created such an opening for Islamists. The controversial insertions in the draft of the constitution, which would criminalize blasphemy and limit the rights of women, are the first examples of what might be in store without a strong left-leaning opposition. While some might point to the preamble not including language about shari’a being source of law, Ennahda understands that it does not need it in the constitution because the process of gradual Islamization will take care of it overtime.

Questions surrounding whether Ennahda is up to the task of governing the country and providing a more robust economic future has also come under scrutiny. Many voted for Ennahda due to the belief that they would cleanse the government of corruption. Since in power though Ennahda has acted similarly to the prior regime in terms of nepotistic practices versus a meritocratic process in appointing individuals to governmental posts. Further, the economy continues to sputter yet Ennahda has deceptively reported foreign investment figures to make it appear that they have recovered to pre-revolution levels. However, it did not account for the devaluation of the Tunisian dinar, which was approximately 20%. So in dollar terms, the foreign investment was considerably less than in 2010, but in nominal terms it showed a modest increase.

Another issue many Tunisians are worried about is the very public rise of Salafi intimidation and vigilantism. While much of it is unconnected to organized parties and associations the lack of accountability in response to actions such as harassment of women over clothing choice, confrontation over alcohol consumption, violence over un-Islamic art, and sectarian attacks over Shi’a and Sufi cultural practices has created an emboldened minority. Unfortunately, members of Ennahda have brushed much of this off as a foreign plot or elements within the former regime trying to arouse provocation. The truth is, Salafism has been in Tunisia since the 1980s, it only now has the ability to express itself openly. It is possible Ennahda is also playing politics since they are concerned they could lose votes in the upcoming election to Jabhat al-Islah or Hizb ut-Tahrir.

These actions though are one of the reasons that hinder secular and liberal politicians activists’ willingness to work with Ennahda. They believe as a result of the lack of response from Ennahda they are complicit. While it is questionable and doubtful that there is some conspiracy, the difference in police response when there are secular/liberal demonstrations in comparison to the lack of response when there are Salafi incidents has created a sense that at the very least Ennahda sympathizes with the Salafi causes.

Further, Ennahda’s counter-response to secular and liberal activists’ demonstrating and complaining about these incidents also raises questions over Ennahda’s ability to truly be a credible partner. If Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of Ennahda and who is viewed as the most moderate of Islamists in the region, is calling his political opponents extremists and enemies of Islam, it is a damning indictment against him, his party, and the notion that moderate Islamism is actually possible once in power.

While there are positive signs that secular and liberal Tunisians are fighting back against this, it is usually in the form of street activism, which does not necessarily translate into electoral or policy successes. The creation of Nida’ Tunis by a former Ben Ali hand Beji Caid el-Sebsi has given some hope that it might unite forces from the Tunisian left. Many are worried thought that because of el-Sebsi’s past it discredits the cause and El-Sebsi’s project is not actually liberal.

The lefts infighting and impotence and Ennahda’s lack of political courage and amateurism have led to an unfortunate state of affairs in Tunisia. Increased political polarization, a stagnant economy, and feelings of insecurity have created a situation in Tunisia where many are worried about the future of the country. It suggests that despite the high hopes regarding Tunisia being an outlier in its transition, it is in fact more in line with the other countries in the region. Tunisia is just not as relatively dysfunctional and there is still a glimmer of hope for a positive outcome. If the current trajectory continues on this course though it does not portend to an optimistic future.

 

When the Syrian uprising first began, one of President Bashar al-Assad’s justifications for his harsh crackdowns against protesters and, later, armed elements was because he considered them foreign terrorists. At the time, this claim was ludicrous. The overwhelming majority of individuals were Syrians looking to shake off the yoke of Bashar and his father Hafiz’s decades-long Baathist dictatorship.

While most individuals involved with the current rebellion are still Syrian, foreign fighters now have a very real presence that should worry not only the Assad regime but also Syrians in the opposition. Most foreign fighters go abroad to defend their fellow Muslim brethren from being slaughtered. Once in the area of battle, though, many come into closer contact with hardline jihadis as well as fighters from other countries and are exposed to new ideas. Therefore, portions of foreign fighters are not fighting to help establish a future state for Syrian nationals. Rather, they hope to annex it to be part of their grander aims of establishing emirates that will eventually lead to a reestablished Caliphate, however fanciful this project might be.

At this point, on-the-ground media coverage in English, French, Arabic, German, and other languages reports between 800-2,000 foreigners currently in Syria, accounting for less than 10% of the fighters. Most have come since the beginning of the year: a large contingent comes from the states surrounding Syria: Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan, while a smaller North African contingent hails from Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria. The presence of Westerners at this point has been minimal.

These individuals are linking up with not only the Free Syrian Army (FSA) but also jihadi organizations.The Abdullah Azzam Brigades and Fatah al-Islam, both of them Lebanese jihadi organizations, have entered the fray. So, too, have less-established, but growing organizations like Jabhat al-Nusrah, believed to be the strongest jihadi actor in Syria, as well as Ahrar ash-Sham. Another group, Liwa al-Ummah, comprising 90 percent Syrian fighters, is led by the Irish-Libyan Mahdi al-Harati, previously a commander in the Tripoli Brigade that helped topple the Qadhafi regime a year ago in Libya.

What is problematic with all of this is that although jihadis remain a small portion of the resistance, many have past experience fighting in jihads in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Libya. Therefore, they have sharper skills as well as connections to networks of funding and weapons, which the FSA has dearly needed in the face of lack of support from the international community. As a consequence, jihadi fighters can be force-multipliers as was seen in Iraq during the height of the insurgency against the United States. FSA fighters, in media interviews, explain that because of jihadi experiences, resources, and technologies they have started to begrudgingly work with them, even if they consider them extreme and do not believe in their end goals.

Online jihadis have also posted videos on their forums showing how some jihadi brigades have coordinated operations with elements of the FSA in places like Aleppo. This, however, can cause cross-pollination in ideology and radicalize factions within the FSA. It could also turn these different groups against one another once the fighting ends against the Assad regime, creating further instability in a country looking to regain normalcy and transitioning to a better future.

Unfortunately, this challenge from the jihadis will not go away any time soon. As can be seen in Iraq, although jihadis there are weak compared to a few years ago, the residue from the fighting lingers, continuing to be a spoiler. Therefore, it is imperative that the international community not only work up a plan for dealing with jihadis in Syria post-Assad, but also work with the opposition to help eject these foreign and poisonous elements, which will do more harm than good for Syria’s future.

 

Foreign Policy

The Muslim Brotherhood has so far emerged as the clear political winner from the popular uprisings that have seized the Arab world. In Egypt and Tunisia, its affiliated political parties have either won power outright in democratic elections. But the Brotherhood isn’t the only movement mixing faith and politics in the new Middle East: Salafis — hardline conservatives who model their lives on Prophet Mohamed and the first three generation of Muslim leaders following his death — are setting aside years of theological opposition to democracy to participate in the political game.

This sea change was driven home earlier this week when Saudi Salafi heavyweight Sheikh Salman al-Awdah took to his Twitter feed and Facebook page to proclaim: “Democracy might not be an ideal system, but it is the least harmful, and it can be developed and adapted to respond to local needs and circumstances.” Although Awdah notably made his announcement on his English and not Arabic social media platforms, where his audience numbers in the millions rather than the tens of thousands, the sentiment is still positively Churchillian — echoing as it does the late British prime minister’s maxim: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

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The legalization and participation of Salafi parties in the democratic process is one of the recent trends to emerge from the Arab uprisings. Like Egypt, which legalized three Salafi parties for its elections, and Yemen, which recently legalized its own Salafi party, Tunisialicensed the Tunisian Islamic Reform Front (Hizb Jabhat al-Islah al-Islamiyya al-Tunisiyya; Jabhat al-Islah for short, or JI) on March 29, 2012.

Previously, the transitional government led by former Prime Minister Beji Caid el-Sebsi rejected JI’s demands for official recognition on two separate occasions because of national security concerns. In contrast, the current ruling party, Ennahda, supports the legalization of Salafi groups both because of its own history in the opposition (where it experienced harsh crackdown) and the practical considerations of governing an ideologically polarized country. Ennahda seems to believe that by bringing groups like JI into the system, it can send a clear signal: if one wants to take part in shaping the future of Tunisia, one must buy into the democratic process.

Jabhat al-Islah is clearly attempting to navigate this new terrain and balance Salafi values in simultaneous conformation to new norms. Despite having similar leadership roots to anotherjabha, the Front Islamique Tunisien (FIT)—which advocated terrorism—JI is not inciting youth to wage wars of jihad abroad, nor are they against participation in democratic elections. In fact, members of JI ran for the Constituent Assembly elections in October 2011 as independents and as members of the Tunisian Labor and Reform Front (Jabhat al-‘Amil wal-Islah al-Tunisiyya). JI leader Muhammad al-Khawjah, a former professor at the University of Tunis, explained: “It is no longer the time for armed jihad…we believe Islam is a religion of democracy and freedom.”

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