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Wounded Revolution

Tunisians carry the coffin of assassinated opposition leader Chokri Belaid. Source: FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
Tunisians carry the coffin of assassinated opposition leader Chokri Belaid. Source: FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images

A second revolution, so they say. The second in a two-year span. The killing of the opposition figure and leftist leader Chokri Belaid was, however, the first targeted political murder for fifty years in Tunisia. It triggered the first general strike since 1978, and probably the largest funeral since those organized in 1948 for the former nationalist king Moncef Bey, who died in French custody. The funeral is also the first to be transmitted live in Tunisia’s broadcasting history. Indeed, a turning point.

As it was usually referred to by the ruling Troika (the Islamist Ennahdha and its minor secular allies Congress for the Republic (CPR) and Ettakatol), Belaid used to belong to the Sefer Fasil (Zero Comma). In other words, his party received less than 1% in Tunisia’s 2011 elections, a score underlining a lack of popularity. Why then, did his death provoke such sorrow?

The easy answer is that his murder came amid an internal political crisis, in the middle of a regional turmoil, during a global economic disaster. Debates among the Troika aimed at shuffling the government did not progress, and engaging the opposition did not work either. Talks of imminent change are now six months old. The different political parties, either ruling or opposing, have been shaken by internal conflicts, and that has hindered the ministers’ productivity, but also the opposition’s demands and actions.

The result is poor progress in all fields, but it is on the economic level that things are being felt the most. The political imbroglio is hence deepening an economic crisis that has been affecting Tunisia since the late 2000s, and it’s the government that common citizens blame for the degradation of their life conditions. The ongoing problems in neighbouring Libya (major economic partner), the growing security issues in the Maghreb and the War on Mali have only rubbed salt into their wounds.

Ennahdha is, on the other hand, accused of appointing its supporters in key positions, with some cases of nepotism. The program it seems to pursue stresses more on religious reforms and policies than on economic priorities. Public spending is also seen as having been carried out irresponsibly, with frequent official travels, conferences and high salaries, to name a few cases.

The assassination also comes after a massive campaign of defamation against Chokri Belaid, largely conducted by youngsters close to Ennahdha, but also by some of the party’s senior members. The slain leader was a vehement critic of Islamism, and his Marxist tendencies were a cause of clashes between his comrades and Islamist groups in the 1980s/1990s. His death comes after several reports emerged pointing to arms smuggling and militias’ training, with links leading to Ennahdha.

These elements put together, with the opposition propaganda and the never-ending rumours, made the anger and frustration become palpable everywhere. Belaid was killed in the early morning of Wednesday. Later in the day, PM H. Jebali said that he was dissolving the government and replacing his ministers (Troika members or sympathizers) with technocrats. The Troika, but essentially Ennahdha’s political bureau—or hawks—refused his call and even considered freezing his membership to the party (of which he is the Secretary General). It was the last straw, and the brewing anger exploded. Those who cry for Belaid’s death also cry for the hopes of their country. The next few days will show if Ennahdha is willing to respect democracy or not.

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Youssef Cherif
Youssef Cherif is a consultant in North African Affairs based in Tunisia. He is an award-winning Tunisian blogger, former consultant for the Carter Center, former manager of the New Arab Debates in Tunisia, and observer in the 2012 presidential elections in Egypt. He has a Fulbright scholarship MA in Ancient History from Columbia University and an MA in International Relations from King's College, London. You can follow him on twitter at @faiyla.

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