“Take heed not to get carried away with the wave of violence. … Violence can only serve backwards-looking people and counter-revolutionaries. Violence has invaded several areas, which is why we have called for a National Conference for the Fight Against Violence. Yet, this is not enough. We must resort to a program of national safety, with political, economic and social measures.” These were the last public statements of Chokri Belaid, a member of the Democratic Patriots’ Movement (al-Watad) who was martyred [earlier this year]. This was, in fact, his last wish — one he pronounced on the eve of his assassination on Feb. 5, 2013.
An organizing committee consisting of the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH), the Arab Institute for Human Rights, the National Bar Association and the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) decided to hold the first conference of its kind on June 18 and 19, 2013. Several associations and political parties participated. On Tuesday, June 18, at the convention center in Tunis, the “National Conference for the Fight Against Violence” took off and was headed by LTDH President Abdessattar Ben Moussa, who presented its motives and objectives, as well as the various scheduled workshops. He said, “It is incredible how some politicians are trivializing the situation and ignoring the resurgence of violence, while considering the security situation to be normal.”
All the same, the conference got off to a weird start, since it was preceded by moments of chaos and hostility sparked by the entrance of preacher Adel el-Almi into the main conference hall “to participate in the conference,” in his own words. His presence infuriated some participants, particularly al-Watad supporters, who saw this as a challenge and a betrayal for the memory of the martyr Belaid. The displeased attendees firmly believed that the Islamists were behind the assassination.
Despite shouts of “Get lost!” that were addressed to him, Almi did not budge. Instead, smiling and waving his hand in victory, he was intent on participating. Better yet, Almi was invited on stage, where the participation platform was set, thus stirring the anger of a large number of attendees. To put an end to the uproar, Almi was led to the door. Yet the incident remains disappointing, because such clashes and hostilities should not happen during an event that is supposed to unite Tunisians, smooth things over and reduce tensions. Regardless of who is to be blamed, the incident is unfortunate since it conveyed a rather negative message about the backdrop of the fight against violence.
Lawyer and civil society activist Ghazi Gheirairi spoke later, saying, "This conference kills! The person who called for holding it was assassinated the next day. Therefore, let us be faithful to this call and take action to fight violence in our country.” Gherairi then listed several examples and aspects of this devastating phenomenon, which now affects artists and women, among others, and which has caused great concern among associations and political parties. Gherairi believes that violence is currently gaining strong momentum.
Moreover, given the gravity of the events that took place, like the assassination of Nidaa Tounes Leader Lotfi Nagadh at Tataouine, followed by the shooting of Belaid and the explosions at Jebel ech Chambi, Gherairi said that it was necessary to add the word “terrorism” to the title of the conference to highlight the worrying turn of events in the country at the moment.
Gherairi also reminded everyone that after the conference, the participants, political parties and associations will be invited to sign the “National Agreement for the Fight Against Violence and Terrorism” — a draft of which has already been prepared and to which proposals and amendments will be added by the conference.
Pledging to take concrete steps and action to move forward with the fight against violence, the organizers of this conference have planned seven workshops targeting security, terrorism, justice, marginalization, exclusion, economic and social rights, teaching and education, information and culture and finally women and violence. All these workshops aim to give rise to realizable proposals in the framework of goals set for each workshop as part of the National Agreement for the Fight Against Violence and Terrorism.
However, since the onset of the conference, incidents [of violence] have only increased. Besides Almi’s appearance and the subsequent clashes, an argument erupted between a participant and some journalists, who were mistreated and prevented from carrying out their work.
Added to this is that several parties, seven in total, rushed to release a joint statement announcing their withdrawal from the conference and the suspension of their participation. These parties are Ennahdha, the Congress for the Republic (CPR), El Amen, the Maghreb Republican Party, the Reform and Development Party, the National Movement for Justice and Development and the Culture and Labor Party.
These parties complained that the purportedly “national” conference proved them to be “partisan and exclusionary, and has adopted an agreement that is not worthy of being considered a national agreement.”
For its part, Nidaa Tounes issued a statement to re-affirm its commitment to continue to participate in the conference, and to condemn the verbal abuses suffered by many journalists. It also said that the withdrawal of some political parties from the conference was to avoid and deny the resulting agreement, allowing the failure of the democratic process and the spread of acts of violence and terrorism.
For its part, the conference organizing committee issued a statement denouncing the incidents and apologizing for “the embarrassment suffered by some journalists, which was caused by one of the participants.” The same statement reiterated the committee’s desire to see "that the different parties and associations give priority to national interests, fight against violence and unite [in support] of the draft agreement issued by the conference.”
On June 20 — the second and last day of the conference that is being held at the headquarters of the Tunisian Union for Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA) — the president of the republic, head of the government and head of the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) are expected to be present. The ultimate goal is to collect the most signatures possible on the mentioned National Agreement for the Fight Against Violence and Terrorism.
With the tensions, clashes, hostilities, and early withdrawal of some participants, the mission of the conference’s organizers seems to be hard and the way is still rough. Yet, he who risks nothing gets nothing.
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