Belaid’s Widow Speaks Out Against Ruling Ennahda

Basma Khalfaoui, the widow of recently assassinated Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid, said during an interview with Othman Lehiani that Belaid's murder “represents the outbreak of a new revolution.”

al-monitor Basma Khalfaoui (R), the widow of assassinated leftist politician Chokri Belaid, carries a poster of her husband as she's surrounded by journalists, during a demonstration calling for Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali and his cabinet to step down, next to the National Constituent Assembly in Tunis, Feb. 11, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Anis Mili.

Topics covered

ennahda, assassination

Feb 12, 2013

Grief is still reigning over the house of Chokri Belaid, who went out last Wednesday [Feb. 6] and never came back.

Located in the neighborhood of El-Menzah 6 in an eastern suburb of the Tunisian capital, the building no longer echoes with the tap of his heels on the stairs as he makes his way up to his second-floor house. As I walked in yesterday morning, a swarm of mourners from different social classes were gathered, offering heartfelt condolences to the woman who seemed the bravest of them all: Basma Khalfaoui, the widow of the late Belaid, the leader of the Popular Front.

I had to gather a great deal of courage to pay condolences to a woman whose husband — along with Tunisia’s security — was abruptly shot in the heart. When I asked her, “What message do you want to send by overcoming the shock of the assassination and insisting on taking part in the march in the aftermath of the incident?” She replied: “The message I wanted to convey is clear: we shouldn’t back down, nor should we fear terrorists and assailants. Our revolutionary journey will not be hampered. The death of the martyr Belaid must motivate the Tunisians to pursue democracy and liberty in Tunisia and to support democracy in the Arab world. The message reads: Stand up for Tunisia.”

Despite the open wound, Khalfaoui was still smiling and affirming courageously that “the murderers wanted to sow the seeds of fear and show their ability to silence the voice of reason, modernity and freedom — the voice that shouts in refusal. The perpetrators, however, are ill-informed about Tunisian society; they do not know that we are able to move past this tribulation.

“Their message was wrong, and the tables turned on them. The march and Belaid’s funeral were the best response from the more than 1.2 million Tunisians who were able to make it to the capital, in addition to the numerous symbolic funerals that were held in every province,” she added.

Belaid's widow affirmed that he had received threats via texts and phone calls, in addition to warnings from key officials.

“He avoided telling me all the details of the threats in order not to arouse my fear. He turned a deaf ear to these threats and was not concerned about them. He used to say that if he were assassinated, it would be the price he had to pay for Tunisia in blood.”

Following a question about who would benefit from the assassination of Belaid, she replied: “Since day one, I have not thrown accusations haphazardly on any party. However, I clearly held the Ennahda Movement politically accountable, because it comprises an extremist faction that sponsors and feeds violence in Tunisia. Many calls to kill Belaid were voiced in the mosques, and the government led by Ennahda stood idle and did not carry out any investigations.

She rejected Ennahda’s evasion of responsibility.

“The Ennahda Movement does not listen attentively. We are under the jurisdiction of a state and a government; the state preserves the rights of its citizens while the government protects them. In this regard, the government and Ennahda are politically responsible for the assassination of Baleid,” said Khalfaoui.

Khalfaoui noted that “Interim President Moncef Marzouki sent a letter of sympathy but did not visit the family,” justifying this by the fact that she refuses “any sort of condolences from the government or the troika parties, given that they silently watched the events that preceded the assassination, fed the violence through their stances and did not adopt measures against the violence in a country undergoing a revolution.”

In reply to the question, “Do you have any fear that the investigation will not uncover the truth?” Khalfaoui said: “I hope the Tunisian judiciary system will bring the truth to light. I have concerns that evidence will be destroyed. We no longer have faith in state institutions, notably the Ministry of Justice, since in so many cases, ridiculous interpretations of the law took place.” Khalfaoui doubted that justice would be achieved in Tunisia. She said, “We are contacting international judiciary organizations such as the United Nations. The lawyers working on this case, along with Belaid’s friends, are compiling a file to be presented before international organizations in a bid to open an international investigation.”

Regarding whether Baleid had expressed to her his fear of Tunisia being plunged into political turmoil similar to that of Algeria, she said, “Belaid used to say that history repeats itself, and that we were reliving the Algerian experience, stressing that we should do our best not to follow the same path.

“Belaid loved Algeria; his heart ached when it went through difficult times. He used to talk at length about Algerians’ struggles against terrorism. I, personally, respect many Algerian women for their struggle against terrorism. Belaid used to respect them as well. They inspired my courage and I would like to tell them that we need their support, so that their dire experience would not be repeated,” she added.

“Is Belaid the second Mohamed Bouazizi?”

To that question, she replied, “We can say that the assassination represents the outbreak of a new revolution. Although we refuse to bury our revolution, it is important that we launch another one from scratch in order to reassess the achievements. The first revolution achieved freedom, but not dignity. It did not eradicate the pillars of the old tyranny, nor did it raise awareness within society. It only contributed in orienting the society toward a unified mindset; it did not prepare it for democracy. Hence, we need a new revolution — a revolution of the minds.”

It did not slip my mind to ask Belaid’s widow about whether their two daughters — eight-year-old Nairouz and four-year-old Nada — have overcome the shock. After a moment of silence, she replied: “It is still too early to know if the girls have absorbed the incident. So far we have not stayed home alone and they haven’t yet realized that their father is not with them in the morning or at night. People are still flocking to our house and I don’t know what their reaction will be once they become aware of their loss.”

Outside the house, at the scene of the crime, people are standing in reverence, paying their respects to Belaid and placing flowers and other tributes. The sky, like the mourners, poured rain in grief, putting out the candles.

A message to Rachid al-Ghannouchi

Khalfaoui insists on holding the leader of the Ennahda Movement responsible for her husband’s assassination.

Ghannouchi is uttering a lot of nonsense. I hope one day we will be able to hold him accountable for his words,” she declared.

“I address him using his own language: I have faith in God and in the people of Tunisia. We haven’t witnessed in the past this kind of violence or divisions that newly emerged and divided the country into Islamists, secularists, Muslims and non-Muslims. I have faith in God and Tunisia; let the political course settle. Let us move toward democracy. I have faith in God and Tunisia; spare us the brainwashing and the incitement that led to violence and assassinations.

"I have faith in God and Tunisia,” said Khalfaoui.

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