On the morning of February 6, 2013, the left oppositionist Chokri Belaid, chairman of the left-wing nationalist Watad party and board member of the left-wing party alliance Front Populaire, was deliberately shot while leaving his house. The attack caused great concern in Tunisia. Several hundred thousand people paid their last respects to the lawyer when he was buried in a martyr’s grave in Tunis two days after his death. His widow, Basma Khalfaoui, has led the fight to solve the murder ever since. The lawyer and women’s rights activist, who was previously relatively unknown to the public, has become an icon for many Tunisians.
On the eve of his death, Belaid had warned against political violence on television. He himself was threatened several times, but received no police protection. Many Tunisians therefore blame the Tunisian government, especially the strongest party, Ennahdha, for Belaid’s death. In the meantime, the police have identified the alleged murderer, but it is still unclear who the people behind the crime are. The Tunisian Interior Ministry hinted that Salafist extremists were behind the attack. His widow has now set up a committee that wants to try independently to solve the case.
The attack on Belaid led to a government crisis that had been smoldering for months. The then Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali had already tried to implement a government reshuffle since late summer 2012. On the day of the murder, he announced that he would set up an independent, apolitical government of experts to lead Tunisia until the elections. However, he failed again and could not prevail against the more radical wing of his party, so that he resigned on February 19, 2013. The former interior minister Ali Larayedh was nominated as the new prime minister, he formed a greatly reduced cabinet. In his inaugural address, Larayedh promised that the new government would remain in office for a maximum of nine months and that the constitution would be adopted and new elections held before the end of 2013.
According to ehistorylib, Jebali’s resignation met with broad approval in parts of the population, as he was the first politician in Ennahdha to openly oppose the will of the majority of the party and of Chairman Rached Ghannouchis. However, parts of the opposition see this primarily as a propaganda maneuver.
Less than six months after Belaid’s murder, a second political murder shook the Tunisian public. The MP Mohamed Brahmi was shot on the national holiday, July 25, 2013, apparently with the same weapon as Belaid. This exacerbated the simmering crisis again. Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets calling for an open sit-in in front of the constitutional assembly. Around sixty MPs resigned from their work. Subsequently, there were repeated large demonstrations by the pro and anti-government side, with the sit-in of the government opponents being violently broken up by the police several times.
The opposition, which had united in a so-called rescue front (Front du salut national), demanded the resignation of the government, its replacement by an apolitical government of experts, and the dissolution of the constitutional assembly. The constitution should be terminated by an independent committee of experts.
The rescue front consisted of various opposition parties and civil society organizations of various political stripes – from the conservative NidaaTounes around the former Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi to the left Popular Front alliance around Hamma Hammami (which also included the two murder victims Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi), to the Tamarod movement, which is extremely small in Tunisia. The sixty or so MPs who resigned their work in the Constituent Assembly after Brahmi’s murder were also part of the rescue front.
The governing coalition, and above all Ennahdha, which had to struggle with falling support from the population, initially rejects the demands of the rescue front. This brought the country to a political standstill. Finally, a mediator group, the so-called quartet from the trade union union UGTT, the employers’ association UTICA, the human rights league and the bar association, succeeded in reaching an agreement after months of negotiations. The coalition troika made way for a largely non-party expert government around the former industry minister Mehdi Jomaa.
A historic novelty is that the trade union and the employers’ association UTICA, under the leadership of Wided Bouchamaoui, are taking a joint position, both with regard to the political crisis and the economic situation that is increasingly endangered.