Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Guest Post: Revolution Reloaded in Tunisia

by Guest Blogger for Isobel Coleman
February 7, 2013

Tunisian protesters clash with riot police during a demonstration after the death of Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid, outside the Interior Ministry in Tunis on February 6, 2013 (Anis Mili/Courtesy Reuters). Tunisian protesters clash with riot police during a demonstration after the death of Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid, outside the Interior Ministry in Tunis on February 6, 2013 (Anis Mili/Courtesy Reuters).

Tunisian opposition political leader Chokri Belaid was assassinated outside his home on Wednesday, a day after he warned about the possibility of political violence in Tunisia. This violent turn marks an inflection point for the country’s shaky transition: will the government be willing and able to establish law and order in a way that protects dissenting political speech, or will political violence spiral out of control? Political violence also stands to undermine Egypt’s transition. Today, the Associated Press reports that Egypt’s government is providing enhanced security in opposition leaders’ neighborhoods “after several hardline Muslim clerics issued religious edicts calling for them to be killed.” For an on-the-ground perspective, I’ve asked Zied Mhirsi, one of Tunisia’s most popular bloggers, an ardent advocate of freedom, and a cofounder of the website Tunisia Live, to write a guest post. 

The murder of an opposition leader in Tunisia on Wednesday was a shocking development for Tunisians who were embroiled in tense political discussions over the past several weeks about a cabinet reshuffle. The assassination of Chokri Belaid, a leftist leader and a vocal critic of the Islamist party Ennahda, is the first of its kind in Tunisia’s history since the murder of the independence figure Salah Ben Youssef in 1961.

The country where the Arab Spring started on January 14, 2011 when the authoritarian regime of President Ben Ali was toppled by peaceful protests is now facing its largest political crisis since the rise to power of the Islamist Ennahda party in October 2011.

Everyone in Tunis agrees that the coalition government formed after the 2011 elections has failed to meet the public’s expectations. Poverty and unemployment have increased in the last two years alongside major inefficiencies in the delivery of basic services, proving the incompetence of most of the current ministers. Worse, the National Constituent Assembly that was expected to deliver a new constitution in one year has been unable to provide Tunisians with a clear timeline and a basic consensus on what their future in a free and democratic country will look like.

Islamist Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali’s decision yesterday to dissolve the government and instead form a government of technocrats is the latest sign of the Islamists’ failure in managing Tunisia’s democratic transition. This decision, while welcomed by Ennahda’s partners in government and the main opposition parties, has been rejected by the prime minister’s own party, Ennahda, which wants to maintain its grip on the state security and justice apparatus.

The upcoming days in Tunisia are crucial for the future of the country. Will Tunisians reach a political consensus to replace the country’s current government with a team of technocrats who can help move the country forward toward a new constitution and much needed elections? Or will the death of Chokri Belaid send Tunisia into a state of political turmoil and instability where radicals from all sides use violence and assassination to solve their political differences? No one is able to predict the future but a large part of the answer is in the hands of those who took the streets to change the course of history two years ago. Will they be able to do it again?

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