Tunisia: Gov't in crisis as uproar over killing spreads

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The assassination of left-wing leader Chokri Belaid has thrown the interim government of Tunisia, led by Islamist party Ennahda (the Renaissance), into a deep crisis. Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has threatened to resign if his proposed "technocratic" solution can't be implemented.

The death of Belaid, a well-respected leader of the united left group Popular Front, led to widespread protests, including tens of thousands on the streets of Tunis for his memorial on February 8.

Jebali, a member of Ennahda, responded to the crisis by proposing a government of “technocrats”, like the one that ruled after the resignation of PM Mohamed Ghannouchi in February 2011. Such a government would hurry the writing of the new constitution, now in the hands of the Constituent Assembly (CA), and organise new elections.

This move has put him at odds with Ennahda party leaders. Fethi Ayadi, president of Ennahdha party's Shura Council, told Express FM radio on February 11 that the party opposes Jebali's proposition.

Protesters were quick to blame Ennahda for Belaid's assassination. Party headquarters were attacked with stones and Molotov cocktails across the country. As yet, the killers have not been identified by police.

On February 11, journalist Zied El Heni reported "very serious information" concerning the assassination, including the names of government members, to the tribunal into Belaid's death in Tunis, reported Mosaique FM radio.

A February 8 editorial in the British Guardian, however, argued that Ennahda would not benefit from the killing of Belaid. Instead, it identified ex-members of the RCD, dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's party, as being in a position to profit.

On the day Belaid was assassinated, the assembly was due to debate a measure designed to bar former RCD members from office for five years.

However, The Guardian’s defence of Ennahda papers over the party’s inability to reform the security apparatus or effectively deal with political violence. Belaid had told the interior ministry of threats against his life weeks before his death, yet no action was taken, Al Monitor saidon February 10.

A new report on Tunisia issued by the International Crisis Group on February 13 identified Ennahda’s inability to rein in political violence as a major issue.

In the absence of an appropriate answer by the authorities and the dominant Islamist party, violence in all its shades "whether tied to social, demographic, urban, political, or religious causes", could well cross a perilous threshold, the report said.

The ICG identified three key areas where action needs to be taken to address violence and discontent: the marginalisation of young, poor Tunisians; the debate between secular and religious forces in the CA; and the movement of jihadi fighers throughout the region.

However, this fails to get to the root of the discontent with the interim government's inability to fulfil the demands of the January 14 revolution.

In a Le Temps piece he authored several weeks before his death, Belaid said: “Two years after the outbreak of the Revolution its... causes are still there. They have deepened, whether at the level of social demands, employment, regional development, social justice or political reality.

"Tunisia is opening a second page in the revolutionary process, against the despotic Ennahda project protecting corruption and consecrating dependency."

A key part of this “second page” has been regional uprisings in interior regions of Sidi Bouzid and Siliana.

Hamma Hammami, spokesperson of the Popular Front, told Express FM Radio on February 13 the Front rejected Jebali's proposal for a technocratic government. It instead proposed a government of “national unity”.

Hammami said the tasks of such a government should include the review of Belaid's case, developing a timeline for the next elections, the establishment of social peace through measures to reduce the high cost of living, job creation, taxing large fortunes, and suspension of foreign debt repayment for two to three years.