Tunisia: what next after Choukri Belaid’s assassination

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The assassination of the Tunisian leftist militant Choukri Belaid on February 6th has caused uproar and brought millions of people in the streets throughout the country. After a brief presentation of the martyr Choukri Belaid, the article will show how this assassination is in the continuity of an aggressive political atmosphere against all political opponents, especially leftists and trade unionists, by the current government led by the Nahda party. This is why this latter has a clear and total political responsibility in the murder of Choukri Belaid, despite the fact that we don’t know yet who are the criminals for sure, even though high suspicions are on the Salafists groups and / or the so called « League for the Protection of the Revolution » (LPR), a militia in the hand of the EnNahda Party.  Finally we will argue that the only answer and solution to avenge Belaid’s assassination and more generally to guarantee the democratic and socio economic rights of the Tunisian people it is to continue the revolution through a strong popular movement to overthrow the current bourgeois and reactionary government controlled by EnNahda party. 

Choukri Belaid

Choukri Belaid was born in the poor suburb of Jebel Jalloud near downtown Tunis. He engaged at a young age in secret political action with a leftist Tunisian faction, the Movement of Patriotic Democrats (known in Arabic as al-Watad, close to the Maoist ideology).

He quickly became a rising star during Tunisia’s students’ protests in the early 1980s. After enrolling in university, Belaid became one of the senior leaders of the MPD.

As a young activist, the slain leader was wanted by security services, prompting his retreat underground. In the mid-80s, he was arrested during clashes between students and the authorities. He was then forcibly conscripted with a group of students to serve in the remote Tunisian desert region of Rjim Maatoug.

Belaid was released after General Ben Ali took power, in a move that was intended to achieve a kind of a political détente.

Belaid continued his activism up until 1992, becoming one of the historic leaders of the Tunisian student movement. In the same year, he traveled to Iraq to finish his law degree, and then to France for his postgraduate studies.

In the late ‘90s, he returned to Tunisia where he began his law practice. As a progressive human rights activist and lawyer, he engaged in issues of freedom of expression and trade union advocacy. The leftist lawyer did not hesitate to defend even the Salafis who were arrested under the Ben Ali regime. Belaid also strongly defended the Gafsa Mining Basin prisoners in 2008, and took part in the protests that began on 17 December 2010. He was arrested a day before Ben Ali fled the country.

Belaid’s assassination : continuity of aggressive atmosphere against the opposition

The day before Chokri Belaid was assassinated, he appeared on the Nessma TV channel, engaging in a discussion on violence and political assassinations. He was invited notably because few days before on February 2nd , at the Regional Congress of the party al Watad, in Kef, a city in northwestern Tunisia, LPR militias attacked militants attending the congress and even tried to climb on the podium to assault Chokri Belaid. In addition to all this, his house was broken into last Ramadan, while his wife and a number of his friends and associates at the Popular Front confirmed that he had received death threats. The weeks before, in a clip that has made the rounds online, a group of Salafis was calling for his assassination. On the day before his assassination, he called for holding a national dialogue to discuss violence, and demanded that the government act against outlaw groups that have been targeting freedoms in the country.

The leftist militant is the second victim of politically motivated murders after Lotfi Nakhd, a member of Nida Tunis’s party (that gathers ex RCDist Ben Ali’s party, some liberals and ex communists) who was assassinated in October 2012 by members of the League for the Protection of the Revolution (LPR), as explained above a militia in the hand of EnNahda’s party, in Tataouine. The latest statement of the EnNahda governing body actually called for the release of the murderers of Mr. Lotfi Naguadh, while LPR representatives were also welcomed by the Temporary President of the Republic, both providing therefore a green light to the criminal behavior of these militias.

Since last summer, several attacks were carried out against meetings and demonstrations of the Popular Front( a gathering of leftists and nationalists forces) and other parties and associations.

The LPR militias were used to attack demonstrations, targeting particularly political activists and trade unionists of the UGTT.

The most striking example of the use of these militias is the attack on the headquarters of the UGTT in December 2012 by militiamen armed with sticks, knives, gas bombs causing more than a dozen wounded in Tunis. This occurred on the day of the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the assassination of the leader and founder of the Tunisian trade union movement Farhat Hached, December 4, 2012.

 Salafi groups prevented several concerts and plays from taking place in Tunisian cities, saying they violated Islamic principles during the year 2012, while few days ago the Mausoleum or the Zawiya of Sidi Ahmed Ouerfelli in Akouda, about 140 km south of Tunis, was burned with molotov cocktails in the night by unidentified assailants until now, but high suspicions are on salafists groups.

The violence of these militias was also accompanied by harsh repression from the state on human rights defenders. Many trade unionists were actually arrested several times because of their opposition to the policies of the government and following their union activities. For example, Abdesselem Hidouri was arrested, trade unionist and coordinator of the sit-in of Casbah 1 and 2, a member of the Left Workers’ League, in the village of El Omrane with Menzel Bouzayeinne, following a demonstration demanding the right to decent work and equitable development between the regions. On the night of September 27, 2012, the police attacked the demonstrators with a brutality reminiscent of the Ben Ali era, the raiding of houses was followed by the arrest of 25 people, including Abdesslem Hidouri. The latter was subsequently released.

As we can see the assassination of Choukri Belaid has to be understood in a clear policy to repress any forms of opposition to the government controlled by Nahda.  The attacks on the opposition have increased these past few months because of the growth of discontent among the Tunisian people and the rise of the Popular Front. The creation of the Popular Front is the culmination of a long preparation period for the crystallization of a workers’ and popular third pole to counteract the polarization dominated by the “troika” consisting of Islamists and their allies on one side, and one the other side, by the Liberals of the old regime recycled as “democrats” anti EnNahda.

Rise of of discontent and opposition against EnNahda’s government 

The violence directly used by the EnNahda-led government through the State or through militias has to be understood within the context of the complete failure of its rule, which has aggravated the economic and social difficulties of the Tunisian people on one side and on the other side operated an authoritarian drift.

In addition, the Constituent Assembly elected in October 2011 for a term of one year is still in place and has not yet submitted a new constitution.

Tunisian working class and the popular classes in general have suffered from the ultra-liberal policies of the government, following the legacy of the Ben Ali’s regime, pushing the country into a social and economic crisis ever deeper. Public companies are the target of the government that wants to sell them to Gulf countries, especially Qatar. The purchasing power of workers has been decreasing continuously over these past few months. The government led by EnNahda has also engaged itself since its accession to power to fulfill the commitments of Tunisia imposed by the international financial institutions like the IMF and the World Bank in order to be granted new loans exceeding billions. These loans would once more confine the country into new economic austerity policies and neo-liberal measures such as free trade agreements between Tunisia and the EU. These policies are not only in continuation of the Ben Ali era, but are deepening the neoliberal system thus further impoverishing the Tunisian society.

Trade unionists play a leading role in popular mobilization and a real dynamic exists between trade unionism and the rest of the social movements. The role of the UGTT has been and is decisive for the development of this articulation, although some limitations are also present with the high echelons of UGTT bureaucracy. The mobilizations against government policies and EnNahda have therefore been constant across all sectors of society.

In recent months, waves of strikes and protests against the policies of the EnNahda have taken place. A nation-wide strike by secondary school teachers emptied classrooms across Tunisia on 22 and 23 January. Teachers’ participation in the strike was very significant : Tunis, 95 percent of teachers were on strike, Ben Arous 95 percent, Manouba 81 percent, Al-Mahdia, 95 percent, Sfax 95 percent, Gabes 91 percent, while most other areas reported similar figures.

Recently, the city of Siliana (south-west of Tunis) witnessed many demonstrations and strikes degenerating late November into five days of clashes between protesters and the police, injuring 300 people. These mobilizations contributed to achieve some of the demands of the protesters including the resignation of the governor, an expedited review by the courts of record of persons imprisoned in April 2011 for assisting the wounded, and the implementation of a new development program whose content has not yet been clarified.

In the Kasserine region, there were general strikes in Majel Bel Abbes in August, and in Thala, Sbiba, Hassi Frid and Laayoune in October.

Last summer, a large number of mobilizations took place for the rights to water and electricity, as well as for the defense of women’s rights. Journalists’ trade unions have also mobilized themselves to denounce the government, dominated by the Islamists of Ennahda, who, since the beginning of the year, have appointed new directorates at the head of television, radio and public newspapers without consulting editors and professional organisations. The authorities are accused of seeking thus to control the editorial lines of these media.

The answer to Choukri Belaid’s assassination: permanent revolution !

The General strike called by the UGTT on the day of the funeral February 8th was a success with large sectors of the society following it and with hundreds of thousands to millions some estimated of people demonstrating throughout the country. Tunisia streets were mostly empty and no shops were opened and taxi could not be seen, while posters of Belaid were everywhere. An estimated  50 000 and more people gathered in Tunis for Belaid’s funeral, chanting “Belaid, rest in peace, we will continue the struggle” and « the people needs a new revolution », while some said 2 millions of people demonstrated in Tunis.

The demands of the UGTT in the call of the strike were:

1) request the government to ensure security

2) the dissolution of the “League of Protection of the Revolution”

3) the arrest of perpetrators of arbitrary executions and human rights violations

February 6 also became a national day against political violence.

The previous days, thousands of people demonstrated in Tunis and various cities including Sidi Bouzid, Mahdia and Sousse. Al-Nahda offices and police stations have been attacked throughout Tunisia.

Teachers, lawyers and judges went on strike on Thursday to protest the killing of Chokri Belaid. The lawyers and judges also protested and chanted slogans saying: « The people want an independent judiciary ». Since the beginning of the revolution, no reforms to ensure the independence of the judiciary have been undertaken. Many of the judges accuse the current government to try to domesticate and exploit the judiciary system, just as in the days of the ex dictator Ben Ali.

In the same time, four opposition groups, the Popular Front, the Republican Party, al-Massar and Nidaa Tunis supported the general strike and suspended their participation in the National Constituent Assembly.

The refusal of EnNahda to the proposition of Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, an EnNahda member, who said he would dissolve the government and form a non-partisan cabinet of technocrats to rule until elections could be held, marks a new radicalization of the party. It is clear that EnNahda will cling to power by all means necessary, whether violent or not.

The best answer to Choukri Belaid’s assassination and the best way to pay tribute to his memory is to continue the revolution and overthrow the EnNahda led government. The burning and attacks of EnNahdas’ offices will not avenge Choukri Belaid’s death nor put an end to the rule of this party. It has to be said that many members of the Popular Front have tried throughout the countries to appease protesters’ discontent these last couple of days. The strengthening of the popular movement through the Popular Front and the strengthening and the deepening of mobilizations in all sectors of the society have to be the objective of all comrades in Tunisia today. The resistance has to be constructed from below through each neighborhood, village and city, with each worker and student wanting to emancipate. No coalition from the Popular Front or any progressive party has to ally itself with members of the Ben Ali’s regime, of who are present in the party Nidaa Tunis such as its leader Beji Caid Essebsi. From 1990 to 1991 he was the President of the Chamber of Deputies. His last parliamentary mandate ended in 1994. Currently the main criticism of Nidaa Tunis against the current government is the lack of security in the country and not a single word on its economic and social policies. Figures of the ex Ben Ali’s regime present in Nidaa Tunis and their so called democratic anti-EnNahda feature cannot hide their full responsibility for past policies, and there is no doubt that if they reach power they will repress all forms of dissent just as in the past.

Comrades’ watchword should definitely be “No to Ben Ali! No To EnNahda! Yes for the permanent revolution”. The struggle is a class struggle and not a struggle between seculars and islamists, but between bourgeois classes represented by Ben Ali’s and EnNahda leaderships against the popular (workers, students and peasants) classes. Our opposition to EnNahda is based on the bourgeois and reactionary policies of its leadership and not on the religious faith and practice of it of their members, which are fundamental rights that can in no way be forbidden, as long as they don’t try to impose it forcefully on society. Our opposition to EnNahda is based on its reactionary and repression policies against trade unionists and political activists, promotion of neo liberal policies , attacks on women’s rights, etc…

EnNahda is acting as an obstacle and a counterforce to the continuation of the revolution, therefore its destiny should be the same as Ben Ali’s regime: to be overthrown. 

The martyr Choukri Belaid will be avenged with the victory of the revolution and the achievement of the emancipation of the Tunisian people, notably through their full democratic and socio economic rights.

Glory to the martyrs of the revolution and viva the permanent revolution

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