Tunisian Opposition Politician Assassinated, Riots Follow

While Tunisia was the place where the Arab Spring began, events in Egypt, Libya, Syria and elsewhere have knocked the little country off the world’s radar for the last several months. However, this week’s assassination of Chokri Belaid, a leader of the secular opposition Democratic Party, has brought riots to the country, and Tunisia is back in the headlines. The revolution seems to be entering a new and chaotic phase.

Mr. Belaid began his career in protecting human rights as a student agitator back in the 1980s, and he gave the old regime asmuch trouble as he could. In the West, he may be remembered as one of the lawyers who defended Iraq’s. That he would defend the rights of an ex-dictator sums him up. Apparently, his small “l” liberalism bothered someone because he was fatally shot a couple of days ago as he left his home for work.
Precisely who ordered the hit is unclear, and it may never be known. However, fingers in a revolutionary environment point in every directions. President Moncef Mazouki was in Strasbourg, France, on official business. He said “There are many enemies of our peaceful revolution. And they’re determined to ensure it fails.” After calling Mr. Belaid “a long-standing friend,” the president condemned the “hateful assassination.” Then, he added, “This is a letter being sent to us that we will refuse to open. We reject that message and we will continue to unmask the enemies of the revolution.” Did the assassin wait till the president had left to create a temporary power vacuum? Or did the president leave in order to have deniability? Such are the musings in the chaos of revolution.

What is certain is that a broad section of Tunisian society is enraged, and a general strike currently underway proves it. The headquarters of the Ennahda Party, which leads the ruling coalition, in the town of Mezounna are in flames according to Agence France Presse, and in Gafsa, a crowd ransacked a similar building. The BBC reports that numerous towns are filled with crowds calling for a “second revolution.” The Beeb also says, “On Saturday, Mr Belaid accused ‘mercenaries’ hired by the Ennahda party of carrying out an attack on a Democratic Patriots meeting.”

Political violence has been on the rise in Tunisia for some time, now, and this looks to be the spark that will set off a wave of fresh unrest. The government is going to try to quiet things down. The New York Times notes, “The prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, called the killing a ‘heinous crime against the Tunisian people, against the principles of the revolution and the values of tolerance and acceptance of the other.’ Bowing to the outrage, he said cabinet ministers would be replaced with technocrats not tied to any party until elections can be held.” If one understands the nature of a revolution, this will not be sufficient. Nevertheless, it is preferable to inaction.

Deutsche Welle interviewed one protester who spoke volumes in a couple of sentences, “We are all Tunisians. Right or left, that doesn’t matter. But Tunisia isn’t like that. Something like that can’t happen in our country.” But it did. That’s how revolutions go. And yes, today, everyone is a Tunisian.