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Tunisia

On a day when organizers had called for a peaceful protest to honor the Qur’an, most Tunisians will remember the images of young protesters who climbed a clock tower at Tunis’s main intersection to raise a black and white flag inscribed with the shahada, the Muslim testament of faith: “There is no god but God and Muhammad is His Messenger.” On that day, March 25, a small group of protesters also attacked and harassed a troupe performing in front of the city’s municipal theater. These controversial and heavily covered events raise questions over how the Tunisian government, led by the Islamist party Ennahda, will handle growing conservative movements.

While much of the Tunisian and Western press has focused on the debate between Ennahda and the secular opposition, Tunisia’s ruling party has also faced criticism both from within its own party and from more conservative Salafi groups. Ennahda’s approach to instilling Islamic values in society contrasts sharply with that of Salafi trends: while the party believes that society should gradually, and through democratic institutions, adopt the principles it once lost under colonialism and secular dictatorships, many Salafis assert that democracy infringes on God’s sovereignty by establishing humans as legislators. This intra-Islamist debate may prove to be the true battleground in the ongoing transition.

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Last weekend, thousands of Salafis filled the streets of Avenue Habib Bourguiba demonstrating in support of the Qur‘an. It was overshadowed though by the actions of some climbing the clock tower and confronting a theater group staging a separate event at the Municipal Theater nearby. Some news that went unnoticed though was the return of Tarek Maaroufi, a Tunisian who had recently been released from Belgian prison after serving for a number of terror charges, who arrived and also attended the Salafi show of force last Sunday.

According to Sayf Allah bin Hussayn (better know as Abu Ayyad al-Tunisi), who co-founded the Tunisian Combat Group (TCG) with Maaroufi in June 2000 and currently the leader of the salafi-jihadi group Ansar al-Shari‘ah in Tunisia (AST), in an interview this past Friday with the Tunisian Le Temps newspaper, Maaroufi’s stay would only last ten days. Though it is possible that Maaroufi may be visiting family, he lived his entire adult life in Brussels and was stripped of his Belgian citizenship while imprisoned in January 2009. Therefore, it is highly unlikely Maaroufi will be returning to Belgium. This raises two important questions: (1) does Maaroufi still believe in the global jihadi worldview and (2) where does he plan to go after his stay in Tunisia (if he even decides to leave)? Answering these two questions may help determine what his future course is and what it may mean for Tunisia.

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Yesterday, the salafi group Ansar al-Shari’ah in Tunisia provided aid in a convoy to residents in the city of Haydrah (Haïdra) in West Central Tunisia who have been hit hard by extremely cold weather. This may give pause and alarm to the elites in Tunis. As Erik Churchill, based in Tunisia and an independent development consultant, pointed out to me: “The French speaking elites have been patting themselves on the back the last few weeks for their ability tomobilize aid to these regions. Ansar al-Shari’ah’s work shows that the elites (both secular and an-Nahdha) do not have a monopoly on this kind of social work.”

Over the previous few weeks, there has been a major cold front, which included sub-zero temperatures and snow in northwest and west central Tunisia in regions within the governorates of Jendouba and Kasserine. Due to the remoteness of some of the locations and coinciding with many strikes and protests by factory and distribution center workers, there has been a major shortage of essential goods to stay warm and replenish food supplies. According toTunisia-Live:

Despite the fact that the new interim president and members of the interim government have visited several regions of the country in the past week, no efficient measures were taken to deal with the scarcity of essential goods in the North West.

However, while the government has failed to provide an answer, Tunisian citizens have tried to create solutions. A group of Tunisians living in Germany started a volunteering company, using social networking to collect covers and clothes for those struggling with the cold in the deprived rural areas of the north-west. The group of Tunisian-Germans were looking for more volunteers within Tunisia to help them deliver covers and clothes to families in need.

Additionally, Qatar and UAE both sent airplane loads of supplies. There are also indigenous Tunisian groups that have attempted to assist, including El Kolna Twensa, Le PaCTE Tunisien, the Enfidha airport workers, and the Assabah/Le Temps newspaper group. Part of the issue is the lack of access due to roads being blocked by as many as 2.5 feet of snow in very rural areas. Although efforts were difficult, an-Nahdha did mobilize some of its supporters to help with relief efforts.

The secular-affiliated relief groups and organizations have targeted its aid more so to the governorate of Jendouba, since that region is viewed as more independent, moderate and socially liberal; whereas areas in the governorate of Kasserine are seen as more amenable to the message of a group like Ansar al-Shari’ah in Tunisia. Although the snow has receded in some of the areas, the temperatures remain cold and residents such as in the city of Haydrah, which is in the governorate of Kasserine and about an hour northwest of the city of Kasserine, are still struggling to survive the harsh conditions.

On Saturday February 18th, the non-violent jihadi group Ansar al-Shari’ah in Tunisia (that has connections to al-Qa’ida’s global jihadi online network) announced on its Facebook page that it was planning a convoy to take aid to suffering brethren to the town of Haydrah on Monday the 20th. Prior to driving from Kasserine in a convoy of trucks and vans, the spiritual leader of Ansar al-Shari’ah in Tunisia Shaykh Abu Ayyad al-Tunisi emphasized to his followers the wajib (obligation) of providing aid to those in need as an Islamic duty and that these services were an aspect of jihad fi sabil Allah (in the cause of God), which would hopefully lead eventually to the creation of an Islamic state or Caliphate. One can see a variety of pictures from Ansar al-Shari’ah in Tunisia’s da’wah activities that assisted the residents in Haydrah below.

Interestingly, Ansar al-Shari’ah in Tunisia is filling the vacuum of the Tunisian government, which is dealing with issues related to the economy, writing the constitution, and maintaining order while also redressing many grievances workers have. This type of social work had been what brought popularity to groups such as the Muslim Brothers in Egypt (and to a lesser extent an-Nahda in Tunisia because although Ben Ali’s former regime was corrupted they provided services far better than the Egyptian government). Assisting in social work gave space to preach ones ideology. As a result, if Ansar al-Shari’ah in Tunisia is able to continue with similar efforts along with protesting cultural policies (the niqab and appropriate levels of freedom of expression/speech), one may see its small movement gain wider popularity. This could be especially true in rural areas where many citizens are more conservative, religious, and extremely disillusioned with the governments lack of attention to it. Churchill concurs stating: “an-Nahdha is very concerned that their social bona fides could be usurped by more extreme elements.”

Although in differing contexts, one sees similar efforts to provide services and governance in Yemen by Ansar al-Shari’ah in Yemen as well as Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahidin in Somalia. This differs from previous methods by jihadis, which did not emphasize providing social services and basic needs like the case of al-Qa’ida in Iraq or even al-Qa’ida Central to local populaces. From this, a potential pattern is emerging whereby jihadis have learned the valuable lesson of providing for locals to curry more support versus blindly just calling for jihad and rhetorically speaking about a future Islamic state. In short, they are actually (dare I say) on a minuscule level providing a positive good versus just wrecking havoc through audacious suicide attacks and bombings. Either way, not only should the secularists in Tunis be worried about the potentially rising popularity of anti-systemic pan-Islamists like Ansar al-Shari’ah in Tunisia, but an important aspect of an-Nahda’s raison d’être and credibility is being challenged in the same way an-Nahda did to the old regime.

Convoy on its way to the City of Haydrah from the City of Kasserine

Unloading Aid From the Trucks and Vans

Distribution of the Aid

‘Asr (Afternoon) Prayer Following the Delivery of Aid

Ansar al-Shari’ah’s Caravan of Aid Leaves Haydrah

al-Qayrawān Media Foundation (QMF) actually originally launched in late April 2011 when it also set up a new group in Tunisia named Anṣār al-Sharī’ah in Tunisia (AST). I have been researching these guys since they first came onto the scene last spring. For background on QMF/AST check out my articles for the CTC Sentinel and the Washington Institute. The below statement announces that QMF will officially start releasing content to the jihādī forums, specifically Shamūkh al-Islām, meaning that AST is officially in the AQ orbit. Nearly twelve months after Tunsians deposed the former regime, AQ has a group that believes in its worldview and is officially sanctioned to post its content to its online forums. It should be noted that that they are a marginal voice in Tunisia, yet it is definitely something to keep ones eyes on.

Click the following link for a safe PDF copy: al-Qayrawān Media Foundation — “Statement of its Official Launch”

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Source: http://www.shamikh1.info/vb/showthread.php?t=141296

Since last month’s free and fair elections in Tunisia, much of the focus has been on Ennahda’s victory, the formation of a new constitution-writing Constituent Assembly, and how to rebuild the shattered economy. Yet these important matters threaten to obscure another significant challenge to the country’s nascent democracy: Salafism. Although the extremist ideology has not yet taken root to the same degree as in Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf states, the new openness in Tunisian society has allowed Salafi elements to widely propagate their message — one that undergirds the intellectual foundations of jihadism and, as such, poses a potential danger to the country’s stability. To counter this threat, Washington should consider engaging Tunisia’s new government on appropriate deradicalization and training efforts.

Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia

One of the Salafi groups that has benefited from the country’s new openness is Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST). Founded in late April, a few months after the fall of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s regime, the group is headed by spiritual leader Sheikh Abu Ayyad al-Tunisi. It also takes religious advice from popular Tunisian Salafist Sheikh al-Khatib al-Idrisi, who was imprisoned for several years during the Ben Ali era. AST is especially active in the working-class Bab al-Khadra neighborhood of Tunis, with members attending al-Kambes and Malik bin Anas Mosques and becoming involved with the local mosque committee.

Similar to the youth revolutionaries who led the Tunisian uprising, one of the key aspects of AST’s dawa (Islamic propagation) activities has been its ability to bypass the mainstream press and harness social media to bring its message to the masses. AST runs a blog and also has two Facebook pages, one for the group proper and the second for its media apparatus, al-Qairawan Media Foundation (QMF). Since April, when AST announced its presence online, the number of its postings has grown each month, as has its number of “friends.”

AST’s largest advocacy project has been raising awareness of the plight of Muslim prisoners, most notably Tunisians who fought with al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) during its height in 2005-2007 and remain in Iraqi jails. The group has also demanded the release of Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, the blind religious leader of Egypt’s al-Gamaa al-Islamiyah who was convicted and imprisoned in the United States for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and Abu Qatadah al-Filastini, al-Qaeda’s European spiritual leader currently serving time in Britain. In addition to holding peaceful sit-ins outside the Iraqi embassy in Tunis, AST has demonstrated in front of the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to call for the release of a handful of its “brothers.”

The group also reveres Yosri bin Fakher Trigui (a.k.a. Abu Qadamah al-Tunisi), who was captured in Iraq in 2006 and executed last month for his role in the bombing of the Shiite tombs at Marqad al-Imamain al-Hadi and al-Askari. In fact, AST’s media outlet portrays him as a martyr, creating Photoshopped images of him overlaid with symbols glorifying his death, including the logo of the “Islamic State of Iraq,” AQI’s successor group. Additionally, AST’s Facebook page posted a music video placing Trigui among two other illustrious “martyrs,” Usama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. And when his body was returned to Tunisia on November 23, the group played a prominent role in the funeral, which was attended by more than a thousand people, many of whom carried banners and placards with Islamic slogans. In a further indication of Trigui’s status, the premier online jihadist forum Shamukh al-Islam featured custom photos extolling his “martyrdom” on its front page for two weeks.

Against the Elections

Unlike the Salafi groups in Egypt that have decided to take part in elections, AST is far more doctrinal and purist in its interpretation of the Quran. As such, it opposes engaging in parliamentary politics and has not established a legal party. Indeed, in the lead-up to last month’s elections, it distributed literature warning Tunisians against voting, which it depicted as an infringement on God’s sovereignty. For example, one of the brochures, “The Idol of Democracy,” implicitly referred to engagement in democracy as a polytheistic act. And the day before the vote, AST wrote a stern warning to Islamists participating in the election, declaring that they would regret their actions on the Day of Resurrection.

In addition, the group tried to deter potential voters by reposting fatwas and videos from popular Salafi-jihadist sheikhs arguing against democracy. For example, it highlighted an edict by Sheikh Abu al-Mundher al-Shanqiti — a member of the sharia committee of Menbar al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad (The Pulpit of Monotheism and Jihad), the premier online resource for Salafi-jihadist intellectual materials — proclaiming the un-Islamic character of democratic elections. It also highlighted Shanqiti’s fatwa against Ennahda, characterizing the Islamist party’s program as a violation of tawhid (monotheism), describing its secretary-general Rachid Ghannouchi and his “ilk” as heretics, and declaring that Ennahda’s positions on jihad, dhimmis (protected peoples e.g., Christians and Jews), kuffar (infidels), women, and music all “pollute” Islam.

Nonviolent Jihadists?

Although AST has not engaged in violence, it clearly sympathizes with al-Qaeda’s worldview. In addition to posting content from al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and prominent online adherents such as Hani al-Sibai, the group has also explicitly promoted the terrorist network’s jihadist cause. For example, during last month’s Eid al-Adha holiday, AST released a statement congratulating the “mujahedin” of the Afghan Taliban, the Islamic State of Iraq, the Caucasus Emirate, the Islamic Maghreb Emirate, and “loved ones” in Somalia. The group also asked God “to grant victory to the mujahedin, raise the word of Islam, and bring together Muslims and rout the enemies of Islam, like the Jews, Christians, atheists, and apostates.”

Indeed, AST’s program is similar to those of al-Muhajiroun in Britain and Revolution Muslim in the United States, insofar as they promote a radical interpretation of Islam without explicitly endorsing violence. Yet actions such as attacking secular students and taking the dean of the University of Manouba hostage on November 28 for banning the veil suggest that Tunisia’s Salafis are becoming more brazen in their attempts to change the country. In the coming months, then, the new government will need to begin the process of containing Salafism alongside the tasks of writing the new constitution and reviving the economy. Left unchecked, Salafist trends could destabilize the nascent transition from authoritarianism to democracy.

For Washington, this challenge provides an opportunity to engage Tunis on security and deradicalization in the context of a democratic Arab state. It also provides a good barometer for determining the extent to which Ennahda is willing and able to transform into a truly moderate Islamic political party.

This past Sunday, the Tunisian Islamist party Ennahda — fresh off its win in last month’s elections — came under fire following a rally in Sousse, Tunisia with Houda Naim, a member of Hamas. Besides Naim, Ennahda’s general secretary, Hammadi Jebali, who has been proposed as the new Prime Minister of Tunisia, made some controversial remarks about the return of the Caliphate. Jebali stated: “My brothers, you are at a historic moment…in a new cycle of civilization, God willing…we are in sixth caliphate, God willing.” This quickly raised alarm bells with Tunisia’s secular and liberal elements who had been warning prior to the elections about Ennahada’s purported double speak: saying one thing publicly while saying something more nefarious privately to its followers.

In response to Jebali’s pronouncement, Ettakatol, a party that won the fourth largest bloc of seats in the recent election and is in coalition talks with Ennahda, said the party was suspending its participation in talks on a governing coalition in the forthcoming Tunisian Constituent Assembly. Khemais Ksila, a member of the executive committee of Ettakatol, stated: “We do not accept this statement. We thought we were going to build a second republic with our partner, not a sixth caliphate.” While Lobna Jeribi, an Ettakatol Constituent Assembly member, proclaimed that Jebali’s statements raised major concerns that needed to be clarified before any coalition talks resumed.

This is not the first controversy that Ennahda has been embroiled in since they won a little more than 40 percent of seats to draft the constitution in the new Constituent Assembly. A little more than a week ago, Souad Abderrahim, a prominent female member of Ennahda, talking to Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya stated that single mothers are a disgrace to Tunisia, “do not have the right to exist,” there are limits on “full and absolute freedom,” and that one should not “make excuses for people who have sinned.” In both cases, Ennahda had to walk back the statements of both Jebali and Abderrahim, downplaying their significance.

Are these two recent examples a sign of double speak finally seeing the light of day in the aftermath of its election victory — or is it a sign of Ennahda’s political immaturity and lack of experience? The latter is more likely. Prior to and following the election there have been no signs of some type of hostile Islamist takeover by Ennahda that would then try and institute a radical interpretation of the shari‘ah.

A few days before the election, the president of Ennahda, Rached Ghannouchi, emphasized the importance of reconciliation even if Ennahda did not win a plurality, stating: “We will congratulate the winner and will collaborate with them just as other parties should do the same if we end up winning; Tunisia is in need of everyone. The keyword is reconciliation, our foremost concern is reconciliation in composing the upcoming government without regard to ideological differences.” Ghannouchi later stressed after the election that Ennahda did not plan to instrumentalize the new constitution as a blunt tool to force a certain interpretation of Islam at Tunisian citizens, arguing, “Egypt says shari‘ah is the main source of its law, but that didn’t prevent (deposed President Hosni) Mubarak from being a dictator.” Ghannouchi in the past has also pointed to Turkey as an example where one can balance both democratic and religious values without compromising either.

Further, Ennahda has been in talks over the past several weeks with two secular parties, Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol, to form a coalition government for the new Constituent Assembly. As one can see from the above comments by Ettakatol, the two secular parties will no doubt play a productive role and provide a check on any potential Ennahda overreach.

One should be cognizant, though, that the transition will not be perfect. Moreover, with every potential accommodation Ennahda makes now that they are in power, it could erode potential grassroots support. More radical youth elements may believe that after years of suffering under the yoke of former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali it is time to finally implement the oft-quoted phrase “al-Islam huwa al-Hal”; or “Islam is the Solution.” By not living up to these words one could foresee a scenario where some support is shifted to the less mainstream Salafi movement, fomenting a potential culture war in Tunisia in the medium future.

Ennahda’s pledge to respect women’s rights and not regulate social issues, such as wearing a bikini at the beach or the sale of alcohol, could become contentious issues in future elections that could pull Ennahda further to the right. Even if they do not, as more time passes since the fall of the Ben Ali regime and there are more freedoms and openness in Tunisian society, the contestation of the role of religion, its meaning, and interpretation will become a heated debate. In the near-term, though, with Ghannouchi stewarding Ennahda through the transition, such potential drift or confrontation is less likely.

Ennahda’s transition from banned opposition party to a leading voice of reform for civic Islamism is still playing out. There will be ups and downs over the next year, but its political discipline and maturity will rise over time. If there is one political party in the Middle East and North Africa that can navigate the tough challenge ahead on debating the contentious issue of the role of religion in society, Tunisia’s Ennahda party is best situated for the task. Although talk of the Caliphate is a head-turning event for many in Tunisia and in the West, since last January, Ennahda’s actual actions to date should be speaking louder than some of their ill-conceived words.

Ten months after an infuriated fruit vendor in Tunisia set himself aflame and provoked an uprising that tore President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali from power, the country’s citizens will go to the polls on Sunday to vote for a 217-seat Constituent Assembly. Tunisia’s election will be the first real electoral test of the Arab uprisings. Several major forces are vying for power in the newly democratic country.

The largest party is the Muslim Brotherhood–linked Ennahda, which enjoys the greatest amount of support and whose poll numbers stand between 25 and 30 percent. Secularist and liberal parties, such as the Parti Démocrate Progressiste (PDP) and Ettakatol, have been recently polling between 10 and 15 percent. The PDP has rejected any possible coalition with Ennahda, but Ettakatol has expressed a willingness to work with it. There is also a small but vocal Salafi movement, which some Tunisians fear might act as a spoiler in the election alongside Ben Ali’s security apparatus. But until recently, all indications pointed to a successful election in which Ennahda would win a plurality of the votes and enter into a coalition to draft Tunisia’s new constitution.

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In the aftermath of the “Arab Spring,” many analysts proclaimed that it was the death knell of al-Qa`ida and its ideology, while others warned that it would open space for al-Qa`ida to exploit and even potentially take over a government similar to the 1979 Iranian Revolution. These two narratives miss the point. Indeed, jihadist ideology has been marginalized and has opened space for other schools of thought to counterbalance it. Yet, at the same time, in societies such as Tunisia where religion has been suppressed at the hands of a dictatorial government, it has created new opportunities for individuals to organize at the local level, including non-violent political Salafists who sympathize with intellectual aspects of jihadist ideology.

One such Salafist group is known as Ansar al-Shari`a in Tunisia (AST), and its media outlet al-Qayrawan Media Foundation (QMF). It is not clear whether AST was organized prior to the fall of former Tunisian President Ben Ali’s regime, but if it existed beforehand it would have been highly covert due to the repressive environment under the previous government. Regardless, since April 2011 the group’s activities are increasingly public, holding rallies and even creating Facebook pages. AST has garnered the attention of online jihadists at Ansar al-Mujahidin and al-Jahad al-`Alami, two of the most popular Arabic-language jihadist forums.

This article chronicles the rise of AST, showing how the group is a product of the new openness in Tunisian society as well as the liberation of the “public square” in the Arab world as a whole. This new commons has featured a rise in Salafist movements, creating challenges for Western states that want to establish diplomatic relations with new actors in transitioning Arab societies.

To navigate the maze of new actors, it is crucial for Western governments to go beyond understanding the old Islamist parties linked to the Muslim Brotherhood (as well as the secular and liberal trends), but also the growing prominence and broader trend of Salafist movements in Tunisia and the Arab world.

Read the rest here.

AQIM Pic2.jpg

In the wake of Tunisia’s popular uprising this past week, some are debating whether Twitter,WikiLeaks, or even George W. Bush might have played a role in enabling the historic protest movement. But one thing seems clear: The jihadist movement, which has long defined itself as Arab governments’ staunchest and most authentic opposition, had nothing to do with it. Jihadists’ non-involvement in organizing, encouraging, or even participating in the Tunisian protests suggests that the jihadist current has been largely irrelevant to Tunisia’s popular uprising. For as long as jihadists have been in business, one of their main goals has been to overrun an “apostate” Arab leader such as Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. But with the possible exception of Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat’s 1981 assassination, they never came close. That Tunisia’s protesters succeeded where the jihadists so often fail, and appear not at all driven by anything close to jihadist ideology or even general religious grievances, has left members of the online jihadist community unsure how to respond. The uprising, after all, fulfills a top jihadist goal, but it also rebukes their belief that only violent and pious struggle can bring down a man like Ben Ali.

Two days before Ben Ali’s ousting, the amir (leader) of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Abu Mus’ab ‘Abd al-Wadud, released a statement titled “In Support of the Intifadah of our People in Tunisia.” He appealed to Tunisians, selling AQIM as an ally in their protests. “I found it a fit chance to inform you, on behalf of my Mujahideen brothers in the Islamic Maghreb, our partisanship and consolation with you. And our stand alongside you in your problem and uprising, with advice, inspiration and affirmation,” he wrote. “Your battle you fight today isn’t alienated from the general battle the Muslim Ummah is engaged in against its external and domestic enemies. … And I encourage our people in Tunisia to be ready and prepare preparations and send their sons to us to train on weapons and gain military expertise. … My Muslim brothers in Tunisia: your Mujahideen brothers are with you, and your problem is our problem and your happening is ours, and the bereaved isn’t like the adopting.”

The statement, an effort to attach AQIM to the Tunisians’ cause, has had no appreciable effect. After all, AQIM’s jihadist ideology, which has never been very popular in Tunisia anyway, has next to nothing in common with the protest movement. What small role Tunsians have played in the jihadist movement, and that the movement has played in Tunisia, only underscores their irrelevance in the country. On September 9, 2001, two Tunisians working with al-Qaeda helped assassinate Ahmad Shah Massud, the leader of the U.S.-allied Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Between August 2006 and August 2007, thirty-three Tunisians, just 5.5 percent of the total foreign fighters, joined al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to the recordsrecovered by U.S. coalition forces. Earlier this month, a Tunisian member of AQIM threw an explosive at a French embassy building in Mali, “lightly injuring” two people. A U.K.-based terrorism researcher, who asked to remain anonymous because his work has not been publicly published, estimated that Tunisians only account for 1-2% of the members in AQIM, which he said has “very limited operational capacity that they could project into Tunisia.”

As the protests mounted, jihadist activists outside of Tunisia have tried, and failed, to assert a role in the historic uprising. In the days before Ben Ali fled, Abu Tariq al-Tumi, a member of the Arabic-language jihadist forum the Majahidin Electronic Network (MEN), urged the “brothers” to contact friends in Tunisia over Facebook and make them aware of the importance of implementing Shari’ah law once the Tunisian regime fell. A video produced by Sharia4Belgium called for establishing a Tunisian Caliphate. Once Ben Ali left, forum members such as Ashaq al-Hur al-Tunisi, ecstatic that longtime enemy Ben Ali was finally defeated, also argued that now is the time to organize a Caliphate in Tunisia. Others, such as al-Khalifa al-Qadim, expressed shock that non-jihadist Tunisians could and would topple the secular Ben Ali. Azaf al-Rasas, another MEN member, downplayed the protests’ importance, predicting that little would ultimately change in Tunisia. In one particularly disturbing message, member Ri’bal posted a video educating Tunisians on the weapons and tactics they could use against “apostates.” Abu al-Munthir al-Shanqiti produced a fatwa for the influential Minbar al-Tawhid wa’l-Jihad asserting that the Tunisian government’s “fight against Islam” was one of the main factors that led to the uprising.

At another prominent forum, the Ansar al-Mujahidin Arabic Forum, members have been overjoyed at President Ben Ali’s deposing and excited for what they see as an opportunity for the jihadist movement to make its mark on Tunisia. Khadijah al-Afghaniyyah urged Tunisians to “raise the banner of Islam” as seventh century Arab generals had in their “fatah” (conquests) of North Africa. Another member, Bint al-Sahabah, expressed hope that Tunisia would soon become the “Islamic Emirate of Kairouan,” named for the Tunisian city, founded by Arabs in 670 CE, which has become what some consider the fourth holiest city in Islam. One member asked whether mujahidin would step in to lead the uprising into a mass “jihad fi sabil illah” (jihad in the way of God) across North Africa and the Middle East. Another ominously warned that AQIM would be coming to Tunisia.

There’s not much credibility to these threats, though, as groups such as AQIM have little reach in Tunisia. But it’s telling that the members would be so eager to claim ownership over the protests, especially given how little involvement they actually have. Although jihadists have been passing around a YouTube videoextolling the creation of a Caliphate in Tunisia, scarcely any Tunisians, and no significant Tunisian organizations, have shown any real interest in replacing Ben Ali with such a government. Reading the jihadist forums, one often gets the sense that its memberships live in denial, believing that the righteous mujahidin are always one campaign away from toppling secular Arab dictators like Tunisia’s Ben Ali. As the jihadists watched a non-religious uprising finally succeed where they had failed for so long, it’s unsurprising they would retreat even further into visions of grandeur. In Tunisia at least, the jihadist call to arms has rarely seemed less relevant.