A Tunisian opposition politician was shot dead today, sending protesters onto the streets of cities nationwide two years after the uprisings that swept Tunisia’s president from power and inflamed the Arab world.
The headquarters of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which rules in a fractious coalition with secularists, was set ablaze after Chokri Belaid, an outspoken critic of the government, was gunned down outside his home in the capital.
Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, who said the identity of the attacker was not known, condemned Belaid’s killing as a political assassination and a strike against the “Arab Spring” revolution. Ennahda denied any involvement by the part.
Despite calls for calm from the president, 8,000 protesters, massed outside the Interior Ministry, calling for the fall of the government, and thousands more demonstrated in cities including Mahdia, Sousse, Monastir and Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of the revolution, where police fired teargas and warning shots.
“This is a black day in the history of modern Tunisia … Today we say to the Islamists, ‘get out’ … enough is enough,” said Souad, a 40-year-old teacher outside the Interior Ministry in Tunis. “Tunisia will sink in the blood if you stay in power.”
The small North African state was the first Arab country to oust its leader and hold free elections as uprisings spread around the region, leading to the ousting of the rulers of Egypt, Yemen and Libya and to the civil war in Syria.
But like in Egypt, many who campaigned for freedom from repression under autocratic rulers and better prospects for their future now feel their revolutions have been hijacked by Islamists they accuse of clamping down on personal freedoms, with no sign of new jobs or improvements in infrastructure.
Since the uprising, the government has faced a string of protests over economic hardship and Tunisia’s future path, with many complaining hardline Salafists were taking over the revolution in the former French colony dominated previously by a secular elite under the dictatorship of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
Last year, Salafist groups prevented several concerts and plays from taking place in Tunisian cities, saying they violated Islamic principles, worrying the secular-minded among the 11 million Tunisians, who fear freedom of expression is in danger. (Reuters)