Mass demonstrations, strikes follow political assassination in Tunisia

Protest after Mohamed Brahmi’s assassination on July 25 in Tunisia.

Protest after Mohamed Brahmi’s assassination on July 25 in Tunisia.

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, is the second left political figure to be assassinated. In February, 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 health services, public transport and banking. The UGTT 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 as being responsible 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.

Political crisis deepens In Tunisia

The assassination of Mohamed Brahmi is a reflection of the political crisis in Tunisia that has developed 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.

The Ennahda-led 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 government delayed the funeral another day, saying this was to avoid the further escalation of tensions. (Reuters, July 26)

On July 29, the Ettakatol party called for the governing coalition led by Ennahda to resign and make way for the creation of a new, national unity government. A spokesman for Ettakatol stated, “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)

On July 29, rival protests outside the NCA building at Bardo Square in Tunis openly clashed, throwing rocks at each other. Both supporters of Ennahda and those demanding the resignation of the Ennahda-led 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, the People’s Front and the Democratic Alliance, in addition to independents.

An article published by Tunis Afrique Press reports, ”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. 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 have their impact in Tunisia. In Egypt, the military seized power on July 3 following mass demonstrations opposing the Muslim Brotherhood government. Members of the secular opposition in the National Salvation Front (Egypt) have supported 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. Mufdi al-Masady, spokesman for the NCA, told a local radio station, “The trend now is to move towards expanding the base of power.”

Both the secular liberal and left parties, along with the Islamist forces, 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.

There will be no resolution for the mass of Tunisian workers and farmers if there is no real break with imperialism and the formation of a revolutionary government. This government will have to function outside of the influence and domination of both the former colonial power of France and of the United States, which has utilized the country in its so-called “war on terrorism” in North Africa.