Thursday, February 07, 2013

The Belaid Assassination

Yesterday's assassination of prominent opposition leader Chokri Belaid has led to turmoil in Tunisia:
Leftist politician and leader of the Popular Front coalition Chokri Belaid was shot to death Wednesday morning outside of his home.
Shortly after news of his assassination consumed the airwaves and social media, protesters took to the streets to express their indignation over Belaid’s assassination.
Over the course of Wednesday, demonstrators made their way to the Interior Ministry in Tunis’ main thoroughfare, Habib Bourguiba avenue, where they showed solidarity with Belaid and chanted slogans against the ruling Ennahdha party.
The situation turned violent at around 2:30 p.m. with police resorting to tear gas and batons to empty out and lockdown Habib Bourguiba avenue.
Protests spread across the country, and some of Ennahdha’s regional headquarters were attacked.
The invaluable Tunisia Live has ongoing updates.  Tunisia is periodically mentioned as a place where the transition to a democratic government has been fraught with controversy, but this orders of magnitude less than the managed chaos that is Egyptian politics.  I think Egypt's salience in the Arab world is causing it to disproportionately set the tone for coverage of the region's politics in general.  Secularists are unhappy with some of the policies of Tunisia's dominant Ennahda party, but there have, for example, been no dictatorial decrees, power is shared with the opposition, and Tunisia's president is secular human rights activist Moncef Marzouki.

The biggest controversy in Tunisia involves the country's salafis, who have over the past two years engaged in steadily increasing vigilante violence against groups and institutions they see as contrary to Islam, such as movie theaters and Sufi shrines.  Ennahda is accused of failing to decisively confront them, accusations which those who are most hostile to Islamists in Tunisia's culture wars develop into fears of Islamist conspiracy to dominate society more generally.

Belaid had previously complained that the Ennahda-led government was not doing enough to, and might be complicit it, salafi violence, and specifically had neglected his own requests for increased security following assassination threats.  This is the context for the significant protests in the country by his own Popular Front and other non-Islamist forces, with the labor union movement being particularly high-profile with calls for a general strike on Friday.

In response to fears of Ennahda power grabs, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has called for a new technocratic government.  That, however, is easier said than done.  Ennahda has argued that the prime minister can't simply impose a new government, and has called for a continuing government of politicians.  Constitutionally, Ennahda is certainly correct on the mechanics, and so this bit of turmoil reflects normal adaptations from a dictatorial system to a democratic one based on consultation with elected representatives.  However, Jebali is probably correct that a technocratic government would have the most popular legitimacy, since Ennahda has quite publicly lost even basic trust in significant swathes of the public.



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