Opinion

Arab Spring’s first hope Tunisia rocked by assassination

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12:03 AM
8
February
2013

The assassination of opposition politician Chokri Belaid has plunged Tunisia, poster child for the Arab Spring, into its worst crisis since police opened fire two years ago on pro-democracy protesters.

Two years ago the bullets were aimed at peaceful revolutionaries, demanding the ouster of a corrupt, autocratic regime.

Despite being outgunned, the revolutionaries won the day, sending strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali scarpering into exile and paving the way for democratic elections nine months later.

Praised for a model revolution that emboldened people across the region to make a strike for freedom, the cradle of the Arab Spring is preparing to bury one of the chief defenders of its new-found liberties.

“Gentle Tunisia revolted,” Mosaique radio wrote on its website, summing up the mood of shock at Wednesday’s cold-blooded execution of the popular Belaid.

The last time Tunisians were this revolted was when a street trader called Mohamed Bouazizi fatally set himself alight in December 2010 to protest harassment by Ben Ali’s regime.

After half a century of dictatorship, Bouazizi’s desperate act had the effect of a wake-up call. Tunisians streamed into the streets, ordering the regime to “degage” (get lost).

The two years since have been bumpy as religious and secular Tunisians wrestle over the role of religion and the state in public life.

There have been demonstrations, deadly riots and attacks by Islamist and pro-government militia on cultural events and opposition meetings.

But never an assassination.

Political violence is still rare in Tunisia where the last assassination dates to 1961.

Within minutes of Belaid’s death fingers were being pointed at the ruling Islamist party Ennahda, of which he was fiercely critical.

In scenes reminiscent of the revolution, thousands of supporters took to the streets to demand that Ennahda “degage”.

Opposition members said the writing had been on the wall after a string of attacks by pro-government militia recently on the meeting of opposition parties and trade unions.

On the eve of his death, Belaid, who was the charismatic leader of the secular Popular Front opposition coalition, had spoken of receiving death threats.

The atmosphere had become increasingly poisonous in the past few few days.

The warning shot was already sounded four months ago when a member of the opposition Nida Tounes party died after a scuffle with those from the thuggish pro-government League for the Protection of the Revolution. In December the same league attacked a trade union rally.

“Tunisia will come through this,” President Moncef Marzouki, a former human rights campaigner, told the European Parliament in what sounded as much an attempt to convince himself as others.

Belaid’s assassination was an attack on Tunisia’s model, which was built on a consensus between moderate Islamists, as represented by Ennahda, and moderate secularists as represented by his Congress for the Republic party and a third coalition partner Ettakatol.

“Some people don’t want the Tunisian model to succeed. They want to see it fail,” he said. “I tell those people it will succceed.”

 



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