Key drivers to violent extremism in North Africa

Academics and writers from North Africa meeting ( ) in Tunisia to discuss key drivers to violent extremism (VE) in this region cautioned international policy-makers about formulating solutions to VE based on information about foreign fighters traveling from Europe while paying less attention to the factors that are radicalizing young people to join VE movements in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

They also highlighted the need for a regular regional forum to facilitate the sharing of data and experiences while lamenting the lack of resources to carry out urgently needed empirical research into radicalization to violence and into effective remedies.

The meeting on Key drivers to violent extremism in North Africa was organized by CIC - NYU in partnership with the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in the town of Hammamet, Tunisia, on 28- 30 July. It was held under the auspice of Kemal Jendoubi, Minister for Constitutional Bodies, Civil Society and Human Rights Affairs, who opened the meeting.  Around 20 participants from four North African countries (Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia), were joined by staff from the above Ministry as well as the Ministry of Interior; the Deputy chair of the Tunisian Counter Terrorism Commission and her staff; and representatives from several European-based organizations, the United Nations and the diplomatic community.

In comparing experiences among the North African countries - and between them and Europe - the participants drew attention to the importance of ensuring clear definitions for terms like violent extremism or terrorism, understanding that only political considerations had prevented states from reaching agreement on these terms. They also pointed out that VE was not a phenomenon limited to any one region or religion and that while in the context of the Middle East and North Africa region Islam had been utilized as a mobilizing force, it was always in combination with other factors, grievances or inducements. These included …..

The challenges preventing systematic empirical and evidence based local research into the root causes of VE were due to the lack of resources and financial support, the dearth of publicly available official statistics and data, as well as impediments placed by governments or security services on access to first hand information through field research and public surveys. Similarly the participants highlighted the lack of empirical evidence into which state and societal responses have been effective – or not - in diminishing radicalization to violence.  These were seen as a major hindrance to developing effective national plans and strategies.

In terms of the over the over emphasis on research relating to foreign fighters from Europe participants referred to the 2015 Global Index on terrorism report which reported that over twice as many foreign fighters came from the MENA region than Europe[1].

The participants also lamented the limited opportunities to have their voices heard at international policy-setting fora and the over-emphasis that is being given to research into Foreign Fighters coming from the West. They called for a forum to be established to enable them to regularly share experiences, research and analysis and to strengthen their voices both within the region and at international  

[1] According to the Global Index on terrorism report of 2015, approximately 30,000 foreign fighters are reported to have traveled to Syria and Iraq since 201.  Around 21% come from Europe (excluding Turkey which produced 4%) whereas more than 50% come from MENA.

Download the Background Paper and Meeting Agenda

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Jul 28, 2016 to Jul 30, 2016
Hanny Megally