A military helicopter soars over the urban landscape, its crew scanning the city below through a cockpit video camera. They’re looking not for the enemy, but rather for their fellow citizens —crowds of them, illegally gathering in contravention of the government’s edicts on social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Sometimes they relay the coordinates of violators to ground patrols. And sometimes, as shown in one widely viewed video of a soccer match, they swoop in directly to break up the gaggle.

These flights are part of a broader mobilization of the Tunisian armed forces that, along with a range of other public health measures, have enabled this struggling Arab democracy to ride out the pandemic — so far — with relatively few cases and deaths. By the accounts of foreign observers and Tunisians alike, this military mobilization has mostly been greeted with popular support. There has been no evidence that the Tunisian military is trying to overstep its legal mandate or assert any national security prerogatives, like demanding that its members have priority in receiving protective equipment or other virus-related aid. Unlike militaries in some Arab autocracies, the Tunisian armed forces do not own commercial businesses or industries on any significant scale, for which they might be tempted to request special exemptions from government-directed restrictions...

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This article was originally published in War on the Rocks.