Tunisian Murder - Causes: Radicalization, Unemployment and Corruption

06/30/2015 05:53 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2016

Very high youth unemployment in Tunisia, due in part to substantial corruption, as well as increasing activities by radical Islamic groups all contributed, I believe, to influence the mad gunman, 24-year-old Seifeddine Rezgui, to kill 38 people, mainly tourists.

The online Your Middle East news service, and the International Center for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR), together with the World Bank provide important pieces of the puzzle - why should a well educated young man in a country where the "Arab Spring" revolution opened the door for more freedom become a mass murderer?

The "Arab Spring" started in Tunisia in January, 2011, and Tunisia is the only country in the region to have experienced the revolution that has established more open political processes, increased public participation in politics and held fair and decent elections. But, then more young men from Tunisia, than from any other country - about 3,000 - have joined radical Islamic militant groups in Syria.

Part of the explanation is that the fresh wind of freedom in Tunisia opened the door for radical Islamic groups to develop organizations in the country, including at universities. An ICSR report a few weeks ago suggested that these groups have been expanding rapidly in Tunisia.

Youth Unemployment Rises

Part of the answer, however, undoubtedly relates to the economy. It was mostly young people who instigated and promoted the Jasmine Revolution in January 2011, which triggered the "Arab Spring" in many countries in North Africa and the Middle East and ended the 22 rule of Tunisia's president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. A couple of Tunisian students who were active in the revolt told me at the time that the rampant corruption pursued by Ben Ali and his cronies had wrecked the economy and left thousands of students with no prospects of getting a decent job.

I was told that young people seeking work knew that the only means of finding employment was by bribing a potential employer, or having excellent connections to politicians and powerful businessmen. Nepotism was rampant. This situation does not appear to have changed, indeed it may have got worse and today about one-third of all young people between 15 and 29 are jobless.

According to Your Middle East reporter Christine Petré: "Tunisia, often portrayed as the region's democratic success story and the birthplace of the Arab Spring, continues to struggle economically four years after the revolution. It is especially the country's youth, a driving force behind the uprising, that feel disillusioned as many struggle to find a job."


A new academic report by economists at the World Bank, the world's largest foreign aid agency, examines the manipulation of customs tariffs and taxes in Tunisian imports and exports by Tunisian government agencies, state owned enterprises and major corporations. It not only concludes that large-scale theft was perpetrated by the Ben-Ali regime, but that the scale of corruption has probably become even worse.

The report has stimulated the World Bank to conclude that a major change in economic policies by the government of Tunisia is essential to curb the corruption, to end the monopoly businesses and so pave the way to creating tens of thousands of jobs. In a clear and short video called Tunisia's Unfinished Revolution the Bank makes the connections between corruption and employment patently evident.

The World Bank argues that excessive government regulation of business, which often results from officials seeking bribes to speed-up the granting of business permits, add some 13% to business costs and absorb around 25% of the time of business managers. Major sectors of the economy, such as telecoms, real estate, transportation and tourism, are to a considerable degree owned and controlled by either state enterprises or by businessmen with close ties to the political establishment.

The Bank claims that protected companies are producing low quality goods at high prices, that airline fares are 30% greater than they should be and that international telephone calls from Tunisia cost ten times as much as they should. Break the corruption and the cronyism and create a modern, efficient, competitive and streamlined economy and tens of thousands of new manufacturing, services sector and agricultural jobs could be created, concludes the Bank.

The huge inefficiencies and far-reaching corruption has contributed to the alienation of many young Tunisians. At the far extreme are people like Seifeddine Rezgui. The Tunisian government has responded to the mass murders by increasing security. It needs to go deeper and urgently address the many failing of its economic management and governance.