Tunisia Moves to Contain Fallout After Opposition Figure Is Assassinated

Chokri BelaidTunisian officials moved quickly Wednesday to contain fallout after leading opposition figure was assassinated outside his home. They announced that they would restructure the Islamist-led government and form a national unity cabinet as thousands took to streets in protests security forces beat back with tear gas (…..) In chilling prelude to his death, in a television interview on Tuesday, Belaid accused Ennahda of giving “an official green light” to political violence. Separately, accused “Ennahda mercenaries and Salafists” of attacking meeting of supporters on Saturday. His wife, Besma Khalfaoui, blamed Ennahda and told Tunisia’s state news agency that authorities had ignored her husband’s pleas for protection during 4 months death threats. In a stunned Tunisia, as news of the killing spread, thousands poured into the streets in the capital and other cities. A crowd gathered in front of interior ministry, a massive building that is still a hated symbol of Mr. Ben Ali and his security services, to express anger at new government. “Resignation, resignation, cabinet of treason,” people shouted. Riot police officers fired tear gas into crowds and plainclothes security officers beat protesters, witnesses said, in scenes that recalled the uprising two years ago. In other cities, protesters attacked Ennahda’s offices. The party vigorously denied any role in the killing, but the damage to its reputation seemed difficult to repair. Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center, said assassination was a blow to aspirations of Islamist parties taking the reins in democratic transitions in the region, most notably in Egypt and Tunisia. In Egypt, Islamists have failed to build consensus and trust, relying instead on narrow majoritarianism. In Tunisia, they built a coalition with liberals but failed to take a stand against more hard-line Islamists competing for support on their right. “Facing down extremists, Islamists find that very difficult,” Mr. Shaikh said. In Tunisia, he said, extremists included not only Salafis but more militant actors closer to Al Qaeda. “They have not been very quiet in terms of their intentions, and yet Ennahda has not taken them on”. In Tunisia, some hoped that the killing would serve as a warning not just about the dangers of political violence, but also about authorities’ refusal to confront it. Amna Guellali, a Human Rights Watch researcher based in Tunis, said group had documented numerous attacks on activists, journalists and political figures by various groups, including the Salafis. “The victims filed complaints to local tribunals, never heard anything back”. “There is a trend of impunity. This impunity can lead to emboldening” attackers. “Yesterday, Chokri Belaid called for national dialogue to confront political violence,” she said. “This just adds to the tragedy”.

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/07/world/africa/chokri-belaid-tunisian-opposition-figure-is-killed.html


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4 Responses to Tunisia Moves to Contain Fallout After Opposition Figure Is Assassinated

  1. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: Political turmoil is inevitable in the Arab world from now on. The old world of authoritarian rule is coming down by social revolution. It remains to be seen what kind of political system replaces the old one. Democracy is light years away to take root in the Middle East. Neither the population nor the ruling elite are prepared for this Western concept of governance. Religious tradition, dominated by Islam, plays a fundamental role in the political life in those countries. Even Israel’s western style politics is dominated by radical religious factions.


  2. Egypt “celebrated” the second anniversary of its revolution last week with riots, tear gas and angry demonstrations against an increasingly authoritarian regime. A few days earlier, the Tunisian army deployed to the southern part of that country to fight demonstrators who were demanding, on the second anniversary of their own revolution, to know why their lives had not improved. In anticipation of the Libyan revolution’s anniversary on Feb. 17, authorities are calling for vigilance and high-security measures. Lufthansa has suspended its flights to Tripoli. Much has changed in North Africa since the winter of 2011. But a lot more has not. To understand this, it’s worth looking at other countries that have undergone similarly radical changes. In post-communist Europe, for example, countries that faced similar problems took very different paths after they elected democratic governments in 1990. Yet some fell into economic stagnation or political turmoil while others thrived. Neither politics nor economics alone explains the differences. On the contrary, the factor most closely linked to the arrival of stability and growth is human: Those countries that had an “alternative elite” — a cadre of people who had worked together in the past, who had thought about government and who were at some level prepared to take it over — were far more likely both to carry out radical reforms and to persuade the population to accept them. Hungary, Poland — and, to a lesser extent, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the Baltic states — all benefited from the presence of people who had been thinking about change, and organizing to carry it out, for a long time. The Polish opposition had created the Solidarity trade union in the early 1980s. In Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel had been advocating and promoting democratic values since the 1970s. Hungarian and Polish economists had spent a decade discussing how it might be possible to decentralize a centrally planned economy. Elsewhere, opposition groups had not been so unified or repression had been harsher. So when the Soviet Union disbanded, former communists — perhaps dressed up as social democrats or nationalists — took charge again. Some were better, some were worse. On the whole they did not press for radical change — because radical change was not in their interests (…..)

    Yet in many Arab states, the opportunity to start doing so arrived only in 2011, and the alternative elite is forming only now. Be careful of those who say, in the coming weeks, that the Arab revolutions are over: Maybe they’re just beginning.


  3. Stretching from west to east across Africa – from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea – the Sahel today is a militant’s dream. Despite the French military’s recent routing of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and its allies in northern Mali, the threat of safe haven for the west’s enemies is not going to end there any time soon. Although, for the moment, the militia have melted from sight, the latest battles in Algeria and Mali are harbingers of a larger catastrophe: the Sahel, the vast grassland north of the equator, has become the latest battleground in the west’s war against Islamist militants. France’s plans to withdraw its 4,000 troops from Mali in late March are premature. From the air, US surveillance drones and French fighter planes will not be enough to keep peace in the Sahel – which includes Mauritania, southern Algeria, northern Mali, Chad and Sudan, as well as Somalia, where a 2006 Ethiopian invasion, tacitly backed by the US, looked at first like an utter defeat for the Islamists. Six months later, the militants returned to wage exactly the kind of war Ethiopia and the US had feared. So how does the west avoid repeating the pattern? By understanding the root causes of the troubles that plague the Sahel (…..)

    Islam is not the real issue we are facing in Africa. Christians and Muslims have co-existed here for centuries. Corruption and climate change are much more pressing problems.


  4. Tunisia is where the Arab Spring began just over two years ago. Until now it has set an encouraging example of progress toward democracy and pluralism. Free elections brought to power a coalition government pledged to pragmatic cooperation between a moderate-led Islamist party, Ennahda, and smaller, secular coalition partners. Progress has not always been smooth. But just as Tunisians inspired people in neighboring countries like Egypt and Libya to rise up against their corrupt and repressive dictators, they also seemed, for many, to point the way toward a democratic future accommodating both religious beliefs and the rights of the secular under the rule of law. Those hopes have been severely shaken by the murder on Wednesday of Chokri Belaid. Mr. Belaid, a human- rights activist and one of Ennahda’s most outspoken critics, had publicly challenged the party’s failure to investigate or prosecute violent acts of intimidation carried out by shadowy gangs of religious extremists. Mr. Belaid’s killers have not yet been identified. But suspicion now falls on those same extremist groups, which had issued public threats against Mr. Belaid and other prominent secular leaders — without any serious government response. Thousands gathered for Mr. Belaid’s funeral on Friday amid a nationwide general strike called by his trade union supporters. Tensions are high. What is urgently needed is a credible, independent investigation of Mr. Belaid’s murder, followed by prosecution of the killers. Given Ennahda’s record of selectively ignoring Islamist violence, that investigation cannot be left to its appointees alone. A preferable alternative would be to reconstitute the broad-based, multiparty commissions that successfully oversaw Tunisia’s free elections in October 2011 and investigated the crimes of the fallen dictatorship. Ennahda, which captured 41 percent of the vote in the elections, promised to cooperate with secular parties and show respect for pluralism. Instead, it is sending muddled messages. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali made a conciliatory gesture by proposing a temporary nonpolitical cabinet and new elections. Unfortunately, hard-line party members quickly repudiated him. Tunisia’s revolution, which has overcome past crises, can overcome this one if Ennahda and all other Tunisian parties recommit themselves to nonviolence, mutual tolerance and upholding the rule of law. (source: Editorial – NYTimes – 09/02/2013)


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