Another Opposition Activist Assassinated in Tunisia

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The bullet-riddled body of Tunisian activist Mohammed Brahmi is just another in a chain of assassinations targeting the country’s political opposition.

On July 25, Mohammed Brahmi was found dead outside his home, his body riddled with 11 bullets. His corpse was transported to Tunis' Charles Nicolle Hospital after being paraded down Habib Bourguiba Avenue as thousands of Tunisians came out to bid farewell to the activist killed on Republic Day.

The choice of date is bound to be remembered by the people who have been slyly insinuating that Tunisia will not be a republic. At 58 years old, the mustachioed public figure was murdered following the assassination of Chokri Belaid under similar circumstances. Brahmi seems to be the second name in a long list of opponents to kill in Tunisia, which has recently been shaken by a political settling of scores.

“We will crush you in the streets,” stated Ennahda’s majority leader, Sahbi Atig, addressing those “who dare rebel against the legitimacy of power.” These words were pronounced after a pro-legitimacy protest inspired by the Egyptian revolt on July 13. Less than 15 days later, Brahmi — an opposition MP in the National Assembly, a leader of the Popular Movement and signatory of the Tamarod petition — was found murdered outside his house. 

This assassination reminds us of Belaid, who was similarly killed outside his house on Feb. 6, 2013. It was not long before Tunisia mourned its third political assassination six months later. After the lynching of Lotfi Nagdh on Oct. 18, 2012, these two assassinations were the latest in a series of killings targeting opposition figures in power for reasons that remain unclear.

Atig’s statements, which have dismissed as not in line with the statements of the ruling troika — in particular Ennahdha — symbolize Tunisia's spot at a decisive crossroads of violence. Yet, the calls for murder vociferated by Atig caused a hubbub. Although Minister of Interior Lotfi Ben Jeddou had declared a few days earlier that the country had reached acceptable levels of safety, the speeches inciting hatred, division, violence and even murder have become common in Tunisia.

Uttered by wise preachers, militias close to the government or even MPs themeselves, the majority of these calls go unpunished and ignored by the judicial system, thus fueling existing tensions. 

The opposition is unanimous. Atig’s statement fueled the wave of violence, and he will be personally held responsible for the assassination of Brahmi. Amid a tense and electric environment, protesters in Habib Bourguiba Avenue chanted in unison, “Rachid Ghannouchi is an assassin! Down with the regime!”

“This criminal gang has silenced the free voice of Brahmi,” lamented the widow of the deceased.

Although a direct link has yet to be established between the assassinations and the ruling party, this scenario remains enticing in many ways. Jawhar Ben Mbarek, a constitutional law professor and general coordinator of the secular Doustourna Network, supports the idea that Ennahda could be seeking to stay in power so as to keep a tight grip on the state’s affairs and key administrative positions. According to him, this latest assassination would be to the advantage of the ruling party, as it could benefit from delayed elections and constitution drafting.

However, one thing's for sure: Ennahda is primarily responsible for the upsurge of violence, given its inflammatory rhetoric and decisions, which has split the country into two camps, whether pro-government or pro-opposition, or religious and non-religious.

The family and relatives of the deceased as well as opponents and political analysts accuse the ruling party of being involved in his death. The opposition parties have gathered at the headquarters of the Popular Front, calling for civil disobedience, the fall of the government and for the formation of a national salvation government. A general strike, on the occasion of the funeral, is to be held across the entire country on July 26.

On Republic Day, Ennahda’s headquarters was set on fire and demonstrators called for the downfall of the regime. Will the ruling party take this severe blow and resist the crisis?

Observers agree that after this third assassination, Tunisia is in shock. Unlike the murder of Belaid six months ago, which sent shock waves through the country and almost caused a crisis in power, the assassination of Brahmi is likely to thwart an already shaken democratic transition.

The political alliances and rapprochements between the opposition components that were declared following the death of Belaid have become more vulnerable than ever, as evidenced by the al-Joumhouri alliance, which has gone into a tailspin.

The death of Brahmi came amid growing decay of the ruling party’s popularity, against the background of uprisings in Egypt, raising fears of a spillover effect. One ought to recall the announcement previously made by the interior minister that all information relating to the murder of Belaid would soon be disclosed to the public. However, this is unlikely to happen now.

After Nagdh, Belaid and Brahmi, who is next? The current situation necessitates a total mobilization by all actors on the political scene as well as the urgent establishment of a national salvation government.

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