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Who Killed Chokri Belaid

Monday, February 18, 2013

Reflections on the Ongoing Political Developments in Tunisia

Alireza Rahimi
Researcher on Political Issues

A week has passed since the assassination of Chokri Belaid, one of the leaders of the Tunisian revolution, who headed the country’s Democratic Patriots' Movement (an alliance between secular and leftists parties), and a vociferous critic of the Islamic Ennahda Movement (which currently controls the government). In the aftermath of the assassination, the political scene of the North African Arab nation has seen vehement protests. Following the killing, Belaid’s family, opposition parties, and certain other social forces supporting his views, pointed an incriminating finger at Ennahda Movement and radical Islamist groups.

Subsequently, protesters took to the streets and chanted slogans about the necessity of a second revolution. Many secular members of the Constitutional Council quit the council as a sign of protest at the assassination and the Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali talked about dissolution of the Cabinet and establishment of a new government, though his proposal was not approved by the ruling Ennahda Movement.

The main point which was overshadowed by the hue and cry of the assassination was the lack of any evidence to prove the charges leveled against the Islamist figures by their opponents. It is quite understandable that under such circumstances, the public opinion relies less on rationality and more on sentiments, but adoption of such an approach by the political elite and parties cannot be taken lightly. To understand the behavior of the latter group, due attention should be paid to the issue of political interests. In other words, the question which should be posed here is: What benefit will the existing conditions as well as the recourse to unsubstantiated accusations have for the opposition political forces? The correct answer to this question can help us to come up with speculations about the main protagonists behind the assassination of Chokri Belaid.

Apart from radical Islamist groups which can be among potential perpetrators of the assassination, there are three other groups which may benefit from the status quo. (1)

1. Political groups opposing the government

Secular groups opposing the Ennahda Movement can make the most of the existing situation in the country. In fact, these conditions have provided those groups with necessary excuse to accuse the Ennahda Movement, challenge its legitimacy and achieve their final goal, which is to topple the government followed by taking hold of other political institutions in the country.

2. Foreign states with vested interests in Tunisia

The present hectic conditions provide good opportunity for those countries which see their interests in Tunisia at risk as a result of the presence of the Islamist figures in power. The government of France is of special concern in this regard. Tunisia, like a number of other African countries, had been once a colony of France. Most of those colonies have apparently gained their independence since a few decades ago, but they are still used by France as political playgrounds and Paris plays a remarkable role in their domestic policies. It was only a few weeks ago that the French President Francois Hollande put military intervention in Mali on his political agenda and sent the French troops into the West African country under the pretext of fighting terrorism.

On the contrary to France’s allegations, a set of various objectives have been mentioned as the main motivation behind France’s military intervention in Mali, which cover a wide range from economic interests to maintaining political influence of Paris and preventing spread of insecurity and extremism to other parts of France’s domain of influence in Africa. These are the same objectives which can be used to justify the country’s intervention in Tunisia as well, though mechanisms used to achieve those objectives may differ in accordance to different political and social conditions. Hasty position taken by the French ambassador to Tunisia, who rushed to declare his country’s support for the protesters, can be assessed along the same lines. He went as far as alleging that what had happened in Tunisia had nothing to do with the Arab Spring.

3. Political forces supporting the past regime

As put by Bertrand Badie, a French political scientist and international relations specialist, the presence of the allies of the former Tunisian President, Zine El Abidin Ben Ali, and their influence on the country’s political affairs should not be ignored. The dictatorial states continue to live through an intricate network of relationships. That network usually penetrates deep into the society and maintains its influence even after the head of the state is removed from the power. (2) Such networks, which are most probably the main losers in a revolution because they have lost their political and economic interests as a result of the revolution, resort to any ploy to cause the revolution fail and renew their presence in the political scene of the country. The intelligence agents of the former Tunisian regime are a possible option. In that case, their relations with the government of Saudi Arabia and Bin Ali should be also taken into consideration.

Therefore, if the ruling government has really nothing to do with the assassination, it should follow two basic approaches in parallel.

Firstly, it should make contacts with the leaders of the opposition groups in order to dispel their misunderstandings. The government should also take a similar measure with regard to the public opinion through the mass media in order to calm down the political atmosphere in the country, reduce political tension, and prevent possible rifts from being created among revolutionary forces. It goes without saying that those political groups which see the existing tension serving their interests, will not agree to restoration of peace in the society even if they are provided with convincing evidence which would clear the ruling party from complicity in the assassination of Belaid. Such groups, should be convinced that they should give priority to pursuing their long-term political interests – which can be only done under calm and free political conditions – and prefer those interests over possible short-term benefits that they may gain by depicting an ambiguous future outlook for the country. In the meantime, it should be noted that establishing contacts with the opposition parties by the government and its public reverberations will greatly serve enlightenment of those sectors of the Tunisian society which may be indignant with the government’s performance.

Secondly, the ruling Ennahda Movement should do its best to identify and arrest those behind the assassination. It is obvious that this is the main way out of the current political standoff. Even in this case, releasing public information on the proceedings related to the case – as far as security aspects of the case allow – would play an important part in exonerating the government from complicity in the assassination of Belaid.

Notes:

(1)  I do not mean to take sides with the Ennahda Movement or point the incriminating finger at other political currents in Tunisia, but I mean to point to other possible options with regard to the assassination of Chokri Belaid.

 (2) See: Islam Will Be sole Possible Alternative; Tehran International Studies & Research Institute; www.tisri.org

Key Words: Chokri Belaid, Tunisia, Political Developments, Islamist Groups, Ennahda Movement, Foreign States, Rahimi

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