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Tunisian Déjà-Vu - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Tunisians carry the coffin of Tunisian opposition politician Mohammed Brahmi during his funeral at Jallez Cemetery in Tunis, Saturday July, 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Amine Landoulsi)

Tunisians carry the coffin of Tunisian opposition politician Mohammed Brahmi during his funeral at Jallez Cemetery in Tunis, Saturday July, 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Amine Landoulsi)

The same setting, same strategy, same weapon, same political inclination of the victim, and same tears from a now fatherless child: Last Thursday morning in Tunisia was, for many, a morbid reminder of Chokri Belaid’s assassination in February, less than six months ago. Mohamed Brahmi, the pan-Arabist, leftist leader of the Popular Front coalition, was rushing to join the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) for Republic Day celebrations. Two men on a motorcycle were waiting outside his house. As he approached his car, a fourteen-bullet salvo ended his life. The second national day of mourning since February was declared in Tunisia.

The initial reaction of Brahmi’s family and political allies, as well as that of many opposition members, was to accuse the Ennahda party of the murder. Immediate calls for the resignation of the government followed, as did widespread protests. This is a rerun of the February’s events, but with one major difference: the people in the street, as well as the opposition leaders, are unanimously demanding the dissolution of the ANC.

The killing came as a Tamarod campaign is being prepared in Tunisia following its success in Egypt. (The movement fuelled Egypt’s July 2013 protests.) Sympathizers of the ruling party are pointing to this movement, alluding that the assassins aimed at provoking Tamarod (which means “rebellion” in Arabic) and sought to import the Egyptian experience—possibly with the police taking over, rather than the army. Conspiracy theory, however, is widely used by Ennahda, and the concept has become exhausted. The idea of “foreign intelligence deeds” is now a popular joke. The minister of interior, speaking in the face of widespread accusations directed at the ruling party, declared in a press conference held on Friday that the suspects are the same as in the Belaid Case: Salafi jihadists.

The fact that a terrorist group is operating in the same neighborhood—Belaid and Brahmi’s houses are located in the western suburbs of Tunis—unnoticed for months and is able to repeat its deadly actions shows how incompetent the government is at maintaining the country’s national security. And this is just one of many security breaches that have taken place in the midst of a collapsing economy. As legitimate and democratic as they are, the leaders of Tunisia should recognize that they have failed—and they should resign.

Returning to the killing itself, it seems simplistic to accuse Ennahda. After the Belaid murder, it became clear that Tunisians would not be silenced again. The popular, angry reaction proved that the wall of fear had been removed forever. Everyone knew that from then on it would be politically useless to kill an opponent.

It is true that the party has encouraged Salafists and other radical groups to flourish in the country, hoping to tame them peacefully, but also to get their voices and support, scare the opposition and make the international community understand that if Ennahda were not in power, then the Salafists would be in their place. But one should remember that Tunisia has long been a strong police state, especially during the thirty-year era that ended in 2011.

That security apparatus was not dismantled with the revolution. If some Jihadi groups are operating so freely in Tunisia today, it is partly because they were given a political green light, but also because the police are not doing their job correctly, sometimes turning a blind eye to those they are supposed to protect. Many officials from the Ministry of the Interior are not happy with an Islamist government (their former inmates, in fact) but, most importantly, they are worried about losing their privileges if democracy is fully established. By permitting the security situation to worsen, they are weakening Ennahda and inciting popular resentment, which may lead to a repeat of the Egyptian outcome.

So while it is legitimate to ask the government to resign, Tunisians should also keep in mind how they suffered during the police-state era and avoid trusting the security forces more than they deserve. An independent or international investigation will bring about clearer explanations than heated accusations or a James Bond-influenced imagination.
After two years of existence, the ANC will soon end its work, and today Ennahda is isolated enough to accept the conditions of the opposition. The upcoming constitution will be the first democratic and consensual one the country has ever had. It therefore seems quite futile to ask for the ANC’s dissolution at this moment.

A caretaker government should be established as early as possible, in order to finish with the transitional period and lead the country to the realm of democracy by 2014.

Youssef Cherif

Youssef Cherif

Youssef Cherif is a consultant in North African Affairs based in Tunisia. He is an award-winning Tunisian blogger, former consultant for the Carter Center, former manager of the New Arab Debates in Tunisia, and observer in the 2012 presidential elections in Egypt. Find him on Twitter @faiyla.

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