Leftist leader’s murder arouses mass resistance in Tunisia
By John Catalinotto
February 8, 2013
The 500,000 members of Tunisia’s union federation shut down this North
African country’s major cities on Feb 8 as tens of thousands joined the
funeral march in Tunis of Chokri Belaïd, slain leader of the Unified
Patriotic Democratic Movement, a Marxist and pan-Arabist organization.
According to reports, masked killers gunned down Belaïd in his car on the
morning of Feb. 6 outside his home in Tunis.
Spouse Basma Khalfaoui
sign at Chokri Belaïd’s funeral.
Belaïd, along with Communist Workers’ Party of Tunisia leader
Hamma Hammami, had been a major spokesperson for the most important left
opposition coalition, the Popular Front. The Front was founded in October by
some of the pro-socialist and left-secular parties, which got together to
oppose the government. Belaïd was attacked by reactionary gangs at a
public meeting just days before his assassination, and had denounced these
violent actions on TV the night before.
Belaïd’s father and brother, spouse Besma Khalfaoui, and
thousands chanting at demonstrations and at the funeral march blamed the
leading government Ennahda Party for Belaïd’s assassination and
demanded that the government resign. “I accuse Ennahda and the party
leader [Rachid] Ghannouchi personally of assassinating my husband,”
Khalfaoui said. (UPI, Feb. 8)
Khalfaoui invited women in Tunisia to join the funeral march to the
cemetery, which is not the usual custom. They did in large numbers, according
to reports from Tunis.
Ennahda headquarters in at least a half-dozen cities were set on fire in the
time between Belaïd’s assassination and his burial.
Belaïd, born in 1964, had since his youth been active on the left in
Tunisia. In 2005, he was one of the many lawyers who worked on the defense of
Saddam Hussein, who was being persecuted by U.S. imperialism and its puppets in
Iraq. International human-rights activist Ramsey Clark told Workers World that
he remembers seeing Belaïd in Amman, Jordan, as “a good guy, high
spirited and highly motivated.”
According to an article by Spanish analyst Santiago Alba Rico, Belaïd
was not only a leader of his party but, along with Hammami, “the most
visible, most publicized and most militant face of the recently created left
coalition.” (Gara, Feb. 7)
Belaïd’s murder was denounced by leaders of the Ennahda Party,
which is Tunisia’s equivalent of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and by
the other two parties forming the “troika” government, the Congress
for the Republic Party and the Bloc Party. Leading European government
spokespeople and even U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland
It is apparent that, whosoever carried out Belaïd’s murder,
neither the imperialist governments nor the parties they favor in Tunisia want
the Tunisian masses to identify them as having anything to do with it.
Belaïd’s murder is obviously disruptive to Tunisian society. These
imperialist jitters reveal the imperialists’ concern that this turning
point in the Tunisian revolution may move the country to the left.
The revolution, which opened up a period of changes in North Africa and West
Asia, succeeded two years ago in ridding Tunisia of the decades-long
dictatorship of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. The struggle then jumped to Egypt, a
much larger country and central to that part of the world. The uprising in
Cairo’s Tahrir Square ended by overturning the 30-year-long dictatorship
of Hosni Mubarak.
In Tunisia, Ennahda quickly became the leading party of the new government.
Yet in order to form a government, Ennahda needed to form a coalition with two
other non-religious-based parties that are also acceptable to imperialism. In
the months leading up to the current severe crisis, this troika government has
been divided on many issues and was on the brink of “reshuffling”
Along with these three parties, even more reactionary forces are active in
Tunisia. These include the feudalist parties based on fundamentalist or
salafist religion, and also the forces that were in Ben Ali’s state
apparatus — the secret police and army officers, for example. One of the
frequent charges against Ennahda is that its leaders have done nothing to stop
the aggressive actions by these reactionary forces against the left and
working-class organizations. It has even encouraged the mobilization of an
anti-working-class militia of youths.
The Workers’ Party leader, Hammami, while not directly charging
Ennahda with the murder, placed “political and moral”
responsibility for the crime on Ennahda, the government of the
“troika” and the Constituent Assembly itself. (Gara, Feb. 7)
As in Egypt, the new government following the revolution has been unable or
unwilling to take steps to improve the living conditions of the workers,
peasants and all the poor of Tunisia. Indeed, without challenging the
capitalist structure and breaking with imperialism, no real changes could be
made. Neither Ennahda nor its partners have any program directed at making
these necessary changes.
Ennahda is also having internal problems. Prime Minister Hamadi
Jebali’s plan to form a “technical” government involving more
of the parties was rejected by his own party’s representatives in
This disunity within the government is countered by a growing unity among
all its opposition, even those without ideological agreement. The Patriotic
Front and the right-of-center Call Party joined on Feb. 7 in the demand that
the government resign.
The left forces in Tunisia at this moment have the UGTT labor confederation
with them, along with the angry sentiments of the most progressive sectors of
the masses. The general strike drew the support of the European Trade Union
On the other side is the Ennahda Party, which has a mass base, their
pro-capitalist partners and the even more reactionary opponents of the
revolution, forces that all have the backing of world imperialism against any
move to the left.
Even if Ennahda is forced to relinquish the government, this latest phase of
the Tunisian revolution is only beginning.