(AP)TUNIS, Tunisia — The assassination of a second opposition politician in six months has piled the pressure on Tunisia’s troubled Islamist-led coalition government, which came to power in the wake of the Arab Spring but is struggling to right the economy and rein in extremists.
With the country brought to a virtual standstill by a general strike and the revelation that the same gun was apparently used by an al-Qaida-linked Islamist extremist cell in the two assassinations, calls grew Friday for the 18-month-old transitional government to stand down.
On Friday six opposition parties holding 42 seats announced their withdrawal from the 217-seat national assembly and called for the government, elected in the aftermath of the overthrow of the country’s long-time dictator, to be replaced by a national unity government tasked with finishing off the constitution and paving the way for fresh elections.
“We are withdrawing from the constituent assembly, which has lost its credibility, and are calling for the dissolution of a government that has failed, and tomorrow we will engage in an open sit-in in front of the assembly until it is dissolved,” the parties announced in a statement issued during a late-night press conference.
Tunisia is considered the birthplace of the Arab Spring. Its revolution inspired pro-democracy uprisings across the Middle East and set an example for political co-operation when a coalition was formed between the Islamist Ennahda Party and two secular parties.
However, a troubled economy, rising Islamist extremists and the two political slayings have tarnished the government and fueled opposition calls for its dissolution.
“The assassination of Mohammed Brahmi is a failure of the government and a failure of its security policy,” said political analyst Alaya Allani. “I think most of the political elite feel it is urgent after the assassination to dissolve the current government and replace it with a non-partisan, competent one.”
The government’s failure was driven home, said Allani, when the Interior Minister revealed in a press conference that not only was the same radical Islamist group behind the two assassinations, but that the same gun was used.
Lotfi Ben Jeddou said the gun used to shoot leftist politician Brahmi 14 times in front of his home was the same 9mm semi-automatic pistol that killed opposition politician Chokri Belaid back in February.
Brahmi’s assailant was Boubakr Hakim, a 30-year-old weapons smuggler with Islamist sympathies who was also part of the al-Qaida-linked cell that assassinated Belaid, according to Ben Jeddou.
Critics of the government have wondered why after five months Belaid’s killers had still not been brought to justice and worse that the assassinations were continuing.
The opposition has accused Ennahda of being overly tolerant of a rising radical Islamist trend in the country that has shown violent tendencies in its efforts to instil greater piety in what has long been known as one of the most secular countries in the Arab world.
The killing of Brahmi of the leftist Popular Current comes at a particularly sensitive time as Tunisia’s drawn out transition is finally reaching its end with the debate on the constitution and amid rising hopes that fresh elections will be held by the end of the year.
To pass the constitution, which is still being hotly debated in the assembly, a two-thirds majority is required.
“It’s high time to take into account what the population and different opposition groups are saying about how this government has failed to protect Tunisians,” said Kamel Labidi, an analyst and free speech activist who expressed worry that the Islamists might not compromise. “I am afraid the hardliners in the Islamist movement are not inclined generally to work with anyone to lead the country toward democracy.”
After the assassination of Belaid, anti-government protests erupted and Hamadi Jebali, the prime minister at the time suggested the formation of a government of technocrats. His own party rejected his offer and Jebali resigned.
In the wake of the latest assassination, Ennahda has remained firm once again in its insistence on remaining in power until the transition is completed and new elections held.
Read more at CTV News
MEMRI: Tunisian MP Rabiaa Najlaoui: Islam Preceded Islamists and Will Continue to Exist When They Are Gone:
Rabiaa Najlaoui: “[The draft constitution] lays the foundations for a religious state, which will permit the forbidden under the guise of religion. I ask you to stop exploiting the sentiments of the Tunisians. By God, I am ashamed to see you trying to delude the people into believing that you are speaking on behalf of Islam, that you are the protectors of Islam, and that Islam will cease to exist when you are gone.
“By God, we were Muslims before you came to power, we are Muslims even without you, and we will continue to be Muslims after you are gone. If Islam is the reason that you are clinging to power – let me tell you that you can leave and be confident that Islam is fine. Islam did not collapse when the Prophet Muhammad died, and it will not collapse when you are gone.
“I’d like to make it clear: This is the constitution of the Ennahda movement, and it was shaped according to their whims and political considerations. Articles 72 and 73 are the best proof of this. To my colleagues I say: This constitution belongs to the generations to come. I ask you not to pass on your hatred and your exclusionary conduct to the generation that we hope will carry the torch and be much better than us.
“The constitution should be drafted in keeping with the international human rights treaties to which Tunisia is a signatory. We must abide by these treaties, which must be upheld by our constitution. This constitution must respect the Code of Personal Status, rather than try to render it meaningless. We, the women of Tunisia, will not allow any infringement upon our achievements, manifest in the Code of Personal Status.
“You used to denounce and yell about your exclusion during the previous regime, but since you reached power, you have been trying to exclude your political rivals. You used to protest, demanding an independent judiciary…”
Speaker of the House: “Please, your time is up.”
Rabiaa Najlaoui: “…but when you reached power, you laid your hands on the judiciary, and have incarcerated citizens who had been exonerated by the courts. You used to claim that you were defending the Islamic religion, but when you reached power, you began to peddle in Islam, believing that Allah has guided no one but you.”
- Protests hit Tunisia for second day after assassination – Reuters (reuters.com)
- Thousands strike following politician’s assassination (morningstaronline.co.uk)
- Tunisian government alleges longtime jihadist involved in assassinations (longwarjournal.org)