Tunisia has been in the news recently because of two high-profile attacks specifically targeting foreign tourists, in what is an obvious effort to cripple the country’s vital tourism industry. Thousands of European visitors have canceled their trips in the last month alone but do the Bardo Museum and Sousse resort attacks mean Tunisia is a dangerous place to visit?
When I visited Tunisia, two weeks after the Bardo Musuem attack, I expected to find a heavily militarized nation on edge, like those I encountered in eastern Ukraine and around Yemen. Instead, in the capital of Tunis and elsewhere, the atmosphere was one where security could be felt but remained in the daily periphery.
Most of the main tourist sites like the Bardo Museum, which defiantly opened 10 days after the attack there – are back in service. The handful of tourists you see number fewer than the soldiers stations around entrances to other popular stops like the Carthage National Museum.
What remains around Tunisia are countless soft targets, ones that can’t be absolutely protected. In many ways this is true of most (relatively) open societies. Another similarity is that in Tunisia, there is a cohesive national identity made up of a large, educated middle class whose stance against extremism is evident. Hours after the Bardo Museum siege for example, thousands of Tunisian were outside the surrounding gates to protest against terror.
Tunisia is facing what many developed nations have already come to cope with, freedom, to an extent, makes terror attacks more easy to pull off. The repressive regime of pre-Arab Spring Tunisia restricted many liberties – resulting in a relatively safer society at the expense of the general public.
Why Visit At All?
The only true national success story of the Arab Spring, Tunisia, is where the impressive Romans of Carthage overlook the Mediterranean and the home of Luke Skywalker has been converted into a desert hotel. Tunisia has a well developed public transportation system making it easy to get around by train, plane, or bus. You can wander around the oasis of Tozeur, about a 30 minute drive from the sets of Star Wars.
Tunisia is inexpensive due to the lack of tourist demand. Large rooms in medina hotels like the Dar Ya in Tunis or Residence Tozeur Almadina won’t cost you more than $10-15 dollars a night. While Quito might have a higher crime rate, targeted attacks are always an indicator you should consider canceling your travel plans. Although further isolated attacks are near certain, those of you with a more adventurous side shouldn’t discount traveling to Tunisia. It’s true that numbers are rarely comforting, but in Tunisia’s case like many other places, they are overwhelmingly in your safety’s favor.