Assassination, Ennahda and opposition spell out Tunisia's turbulence

Bassem Aly , Wednesday 31 Jul 2013

Following second assassination of opposition figure, tensions with ruling Islamists lead many activists to replicate Egypt's grass-roots signature drive 'Tamarod'

A demonstrator holds a lighted flare during a protest to demand the ouster of the Islamist-dominated government, outside the Constituent Assembly headquarters in Tunis July 28, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

The killing of Tunisia’s opposition politician Mohamed Brahmi opened fire on the ruling Islamist party Ennahda, which faced an angry wave of protests during the last week.

This is not the first incident, as another opposition figure, Chokri Belaid, was assassinated on 6 February leading to a wave of political tensions between the government and the opposition in Tunisia.

The Arab Spring pioneer state seems uncertain about its democratic future, especially amid the absence of a joint political vision.

Who Killed Brahmi?

The assassinated parliamentarian Brahmi was shot dead by unidentified gunmen outside his home on 25 July in the exact way in which Belaid lost his live.

President Moncef Marzouki said the killing was aimed at derailing the Arab Spring and called it a "second national catastrophe" after Belaid's murder as many opposition forces accused Ennahda of committing both crimes.

Last week, General Union of Tunisian Labour (UGTT) called for general strikes across the North African country, which was implemented "100 percent," said Mahmoud El- May, a member of the Constituent Assembly (ANC), which is in charge of drafting Tunisia's new constitution.

"For instance, all airports were closed; however, it is difficult to see what happened in Egypt because of the un-politicised military and consensus on the constitution-writing process," added El-May, a member of the centrist Al-Joumhouri Party.

Tunisia Prime Minister Ali Larayedh, heading an Ennahda-led coalition, that includes the centre-left Ettakatol Party and Congress for the Republic (CPR), called for a general election for 17 December following an emergency meeting intended to reduce political tensions as anti-government protests called for the ouster of the government.

He insisted that the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) will complete the drafting of the constitution by 23 October.

This statement coincided with a warning by one of Ennahda's coalition partners, Ettaktol, to withdraw unless a new national unity government is formed, claiming it is necessary to "end the widespread and increasingly violent protests."

Ennahda's international spokesperson Yusra Ghannouchi spoke to Ahram Online on the issue.

"There are some calls for exploiting the tragic and heinous assassination crime to attempt once again to obstruct the completion of the democratic transition and the organisation of elections by those who are not committed to the democratic process," Ghannouchi said.

She said that a full draft constitution has been completed. The assembly has already started to discuss it in preparation for amendments and adoption. Several fundamental commissions (media, judiciary etc.) have been formed and the electoral commission that will oversee the organisation of elections by the end of this year "is almost ready."

Egypt-inspired Tamarod movement

The way Egypt's ex-president Mohamed Morsi was ousted inspired many Tunisian anti-government activists.

The so-called Tamarod (Rebel) movement collected 22 million signatures against the Islamist president in Egypt, sparking nationwide protests that called for his ouster.

Tunisia is currently replicating this experience.

Opposition activists launched their own version of Tamarod, accusing Ennahda of attempting to create a religious state that restricts personal freedoms and criticising it for its failure to manage the economy.

Meriem Dhaouadi, a Tunisian youth activist, said that Tamarod aims at reaching 2 million signatures within the next few weeks, calling for the formation of a consensual government, dissolution of the elected NCA and creation of a "body of experts" to draft a new constitution.

"I do expect the leading Ennahda government to fall down pretty soon. The people are angry from the course of assassinations, as well as the almost-same neo-liberal economic policies implemented under the dictatorship of Ben Ali," she said.

"Although the troika is leading Tunisia today, in reality it is a one party rule, that of Ennahda, while the other parties seem not to be involved in the decision-making," Dhaouadi added.

On 14 July, Tamarod announced the collection of 870,000 signatures out of 10-million people, but the claim could not be verified, according to AFP.

Larayedh, in a radio interview, described Tamarod last week as a "copycat group" that represents a danger to the democratic process.

Mabrouka Mbarek, a CPR Constituent Assembly member, said that asking the government to resign is a legitimate demand, but calling for the dissolution of the NCA is "irresponsible." "The government was not able to prevent the assassination of a politician," she asserted.

Mbarek said that Tunisians need to "wrap up the job and get this transition to an end," otherwise the 'counter-revolution' will get stronger and take us back to a dictatorship."

Ghannouchi said "some nihilistic and irresponsible attempts" in Tunisia seek to exploit the "tragic situation" in Egypt in order to destroy the whole political process.

"No sane person would wish to take their country into the same direction into which Egypt is being dragged, and secondly because the arguments used by some to justify the coup in Egypt simply do not exist in Tunisia," Ghannouchi noted.

According to most news reports, dozens of Tunisian MPS have been boycotting parliamentary sessions since Brahmi's assassination, a situation that led NCA speaker

Mustapha Ben Jaafar to call for "restraint" and urge them to resume work on the delayed constitution.

Local authorities accused Al-Qaeda-linked Salafist group Ansar Al-Sharia, of assassinating Brahmi; the latter denied their involvement.

Brahmi was buried next to Belaid in El-Jellaz cemetery, where hundreds of thousands of mourners took the streets of the capital Tunis during his funeral on Saturday. 

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