Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, is a frequent guest on various international media outlets. Azikiwe is focused on African, Latin American and Middle Eastern affairs., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Tunisians Hold Mass Demonstrations, General Strike in Response to Political Assassination
Opposition leader Mohamed Brahmi is the second leftist murdered this year
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Tunisian workers and youth shut down the North African country on July 26 when the largest trade union federation and other political organizations held a general strike. The actions were in response to the July 25 assassination of Popular Front leftist politician Mohamed Brahmi, 58, who was shot 14 times outside his home near the capital of Tunis.
Brahmi, a member of the legislative 217-member National Constituent Assembly (NCA), is the second left political figure to be assassinated since February when lawyer Chokri Belaid was murdered also outside his home. Tunisia Minister of the Interior Lofti Ben Jeddou reported that both leaders were killed with the same weapon.
The general strike on July 26 and the funeral of Brahmi on July 27 brought out hundreds of thousands of people who expressed their opposition to the current government dominated by the moderate-Islamist Ennahda party. Demonstrations were held in the capital Tunis as well as the southern mining areas at Gafsa and the town of Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the uprising in December 2010 which spread across the country and led to the forced removal of longtime western-allied President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
Initiated by the General Union of Tunisian Labor (UGTT), the leading trade union alliance, the work stoppage and demonstrations were held under the theme of stopping “terrorism, violence and murders.” Thousands gathered outside the UGTT headquarters on July 26 planning to march down the city’s main street to the interior ministry building when they were attacked by riot police using teargas.
UGTT Deputy Secretary-General Sami Tahri stated that all sectors of the labor force observed the strike including, the health services, public transport and banking. The trade union federal claims 500,000 members.
In Sidi Bouzid, demonstrators threw firebombs at the headquarters of the Ennahda party. The sister of the slain politician Chhiba Brahmi, pointed her finger at the Ennahda party for the assassination.
“I accuse Ennahda. It was them who killed him.” Similar accusations were made in February in the aftermath of the killing of Belaid.
The daughter of Brahmi, Balkis Brahmi, 19, told the French Press Agency (AFP) that she witnessed two men dressed in black fleeing the murder scene. “At around midday, we heard gunfire and my father crying with pain. We rushed out—my brother, mother and I—to find his body riddled with bullets at the wheel of his car parked in front of the house.”(July 26)
Political Crisis Deepens In Tunisia
The assassination of Mohamed Brahmi is a clear reflection of the political crisis in Tunisia stemming from the failure to form a unified revolutionary and effective government since the overthrow of Ben Ali. At the funeral of Brahmi on July 27, tens of thousands gathered with many chanting “The people want to topple the regime! Ghannouchi, Assassin, Criminal!” (France 24, July 27)
Rached Ghannouchi is the leader of the Ennahda party and has played a prominent role within the former opposition movement against Ben Ali. Ghannouchi stayed in exile for many years and was only unbanned after the fall of the previous regime.
Nonetheless, the government has denied any involvement in the assassination. Ghannouchi described the murder of Brahmi as “a catastrophe for Tunisia” saying “those behind this want to lead the country towards civil war and disrupt the democratic transition.” (dw.de, July 26)
Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki declared Friday July 26 as a day of mourning and requested that the military grant Brahmi a state funeral. The burial was delayed until Saturday ostensibly to avoid the further escalation of tensions. (Reuters, July 26)
Prior to the funeral of Brahmi, there was a reported bomb explosion outside a police station in the suburb of La Goulette port near Tunis. The blast wounded an officer and destroyed an unmarked vehicle.
On July 29 the Ettakatol party called for the governing coalition led by Ennahda to resign and make way for the creation of new national unity government. A spokesman for Ettakatol stated that “If Ennahda refuses this proposal we will withdraw from the government.” (Reuters, July 29)
If Ettakatol withdraws from the coalition it will pose a serious dilemma for the Prime Minister Ali Larayedh. Noureddine Bhiri, a spokesman for Larayedh, said that the demonstrations taking place in Tunisia were tantamount to the “destruction of the state.” (Reuters, July 29)
Noureddine asked “What are the alternatives that they want after dissolving the government? There is nothing but violence and destruction. We need to stay united to pass this phase and end terrorism.”
Tempers flared on July 29 when rival protests outside the NCA building at Bardo Square in Tunis openly clashed throwing rocks at each other. Supporters of Ennahda and those demanding the resignation of the current government have been staging sit-ins in the area.
After the fencing-in of Bardo Square, a lawmaker who had resigned from the Constituent Assembly was reportedly beaten by security forces and taken to a hospital. One opposition figure, Manji Rahawi, was quoted as saying “The prime minister will be held accountable for any drop of blood spilled in the Bardo sit-in.”
The sit-in began on July 27 when some 42 deputies withdrew from the legislative body in protest over the continuation of the current government. The deputies belonged to various political parties including the Republican Party, El-Massar, Al-Moubadara, Nidaa Tounes, Afek Tounes, People’s Front, Democratic Alliance, in addition to independents.
In an article published by Tunis Afrique Press, it says ”these deputies following the assassination of People’s Movement Coordinator-General and NCA Deputy Mohamed Brahmi, are proclaiming a national salvation government led by an independent national personality who will not stand for any electoral event and entrusting the completion of the Constitution to a committee of experts before submitting it to a referendum as soon as possible.” (July 27)
The much-desired constitution was discussed after the fall of Ben Ali in January 2011 but has not been finished in two-and-a-half years of often political turmoil. Since the overthrow of the former government under Ben Ali the economy based largely on tourism and mining has continued to decline.
Political developments in neighboring Egypt where the military seized power on July 3 after mass demonstrations opposing the Muslim Brotherhood government were held, is being watched closely inside Tunisia. Previous opposition forces from the National Salvation Front (NSF) in Egypt have given support to the military actions and some are participating in the newly-appointed interim governing council.
Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, President of the National Constituent Assembly Mustapha Ben Jaafar and Interim Prime Minister Ali Larayedh reportedly held a consultation meeting on July 27 in Carthage to evaluate the political crisis in the country. Spokesman for the NCA said that “The trend now is to move towards expanding the base of power,” Mufdi al-Masady told a local radio station.
Nonetheless it will be extremely difficult to reach such a consensus in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of Brahmi. Both the secular liberal and left parties along with the Islamist forces both have formidable constituencies in the country.
The UGTT will undoubtedly play a significant and even pivotal role in the developing crisis having the strength to engage in general strikes and mass demonstrations. Tunisia will remain in crisis until there is a formal break with imperialism and the formation of a revolutionary government which can function outside the influence and domination of both the former colonial power of France and the United States which has utilized the country in its so-called “war of terrorism” in North Africa.