Tunisia: Assassination throws gov't into chaos

Mohamed Brahmi.
Saturday, August 3, 2013

For the second time in six months, Tunisia's government has been thrown into chaos after the killing of a left-wing leader. Mohamed Brahmi, a leader of Tunisia's Popular Front, was assassinated on July 25.

Brahmi was attacked by two men on motorbike outside his home in Ariana, a suburb of Tunis, and was shot 11 times. He was taken to Mahmoud Matri Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

His widow M'barka told radio station Mosaique FM: “He died as a martyr to his opinion and position”, Tunisia Live said. She added that “he was killed by a terrorist gang”.

Brahmi was an activist for many years under Ben Ali's dictatorship. He was born in the impoverished interior town of Sidi Bouzid, where the uprising that overthrew Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011 began. After the 2011 uprising, he founded the Popular Movement.

On April 9, the Popular Movement joined with the Popular Front, which is made up of a large variety of radical left groups involved in the trade union and other social movements.

On July 7, Brahmi resigned from the Popular Movement after it rescinded the decision to join the front.

In the aftermath of the killing, interior minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou announced that the same gun used to kill Brahmi had been used to assassinate Chokri Belaid six months earlier.

Belaid, also a Popular Front leader was killed in similar circumstances, gunned down by assailants on motorbikes outside his home on February 6.

Ben Jeddou named a suspect, Islamic fundamnetalist Boubacar Hakim, also wanted on suspicion of smuggling weapons from Libya. He has been connected with the al Qaeda-linked group Ansar al-Sharia.

However, the group denied responsibility in a Facebook statement, calling Brahmi's killing "a political assassination, part of attempts to push the country toward chaos".

Brahmi's murder "only profits remnants of the former regime and lackeys of the Zionists and Crusaders", it said.

The response to the killing was swift, with protests breaking out across the country. A general strike on July 26 shut down banks, shops and flights, as thousands rallied in Tunis to join Brahmi's funeral procession.

Demonstrations took place around the country, with a police station and offices of the ruling Ennahda party set on fire in Siliana.

Popular Front activist Mohamed Mofti was killed in the southern mining town of Gafsa after being struck in the head by a tear gas canister. Tear gas was also used to disperse protests demanding the dissolution of the government in Tunis, Sidi Bouzid, Siliana, Montastir and Sfax.

Protesters in Tunis converged on the Bardo square, location of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) that is overdue to release a new draft constitution. The Islamist Ennahda party, in a "troika" alliance with two secular parties, holds a majority in the NCA, and the interim government.

Protesters converged on the Bardo on July 26 to demand the dissolution of the Ennahda-led government and the NCA.

They were met by a smaller number of government supporters who rallied across the square, chanting "there's no room for Sisi" — comparing the calls to dissolve the government to the recent ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt by the military.

Despite their similar positions as post-dictatorship democracies with Islamist governments, comparisons between the current events to those in Egypt, where large liberal secular protests preceded the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood government by the military, are weak at best.

A "Tunisian Tamarod" movement, demanding a constitution which would represent all Tunisians and not only Islamists, gained 200,000 signatures in June, but was unable to make a big impact or mobilise strong support on the streets.

Beji Caid Essebsi, the leader of the ex-regime Tunisia Call Party, used the opportunity to demand the dissolution of the NCA. He also criticised a proposed law that would extend a ban on ex-regime figures taking office.

This demand has also been raised by the Popular Front. In an interview with International Viewpoint, leader of the socialist Workers' Left League Alhelm Belhadj said: "The government has failed ... it was put in place to manage a transitional period of one year. Eighteen months have gone by and the essential tasks for which it was there, those of the Constitution, have not been fulfilled."

The Popular Front had proposed to launch a big national protest movement for justice for Chokri Belaid on August 6, before Brahmi's murder.

The anti-government sit-in at the Bardo was dispersed on July 27. The police claimed they were intervening to prevent violence between the two camps in the square after a spate of "stone throwing".

Thousands of anti-government protesters resumed their "Sit-in of Departure" on July 28, where they remained until August 2.

Sixty-five members of the NCA have withdrawn from the body in protest; several have been taking part in the sit-in.

Ennahda spokespeople have announced they are willing to discuss forming a government of national unity, but refuse to discuss dissolving the NCA.