Tunisia’s biggest protest since the Arab Spring
March 18, 2013
Thousands of people took to the streets of the Tunisian capital demanding to end the rule of the Islamist government, which they accuse of assassinating prominent secular politician, Chokri Belaid.
The March 16 demonstration is the biggest in a series of protest events, which took place in the country after Belaid was shot dead outside his home exactly 40 days ago.
The rallies already lead to Tunisian Prime Minister, Hamadi Jebali, resigning from his position on March 14. Fellow member of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party, Ali Larayedh, who came in as a replacement, has formed a new coalition government with independents in key ministries.
But the move wasn’t enough to calm the people as they chanted “Ennahda go”, “The people want a new revolution” and “The people want to bring down the regime” during their demonstration on Saturday.
Belaid’s family accuse Ennahda of murder, but the ruling Tunisian party denies any involvement. With nobody claiming responsibility for the crime, police are saying that the assassin was a radical Salafist Islamist.
”They killed Chokri but they cannot kill the values of freedom defended by him,” Belaid’s widow Basma said in front of her husband’s grave on Saturday.
Belaid’s liberal nine-party Popular Front bloc has only three seats in Tunisia’s parliament, but it speaks for many people, who fear that the religious radicals would deprive them of freedoms won in the Arab spring.
Despite not playing a major role in the Jasmine Revolution, which toppled president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, it’s the Islamists, who took power in the country though a general election.
The protests didn’t prevent Ennahda party chairman, Rashid Ghannouchi, from holding talks with a visiting European Union delegation, headed by the European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy, Stefan Fule.
“Ennahda Movement supports the deepening of relations with the European Union on the basis of common interests and mutual respect,” Ghannouchi is cited as saying on the Muslim Brotherhood’s official website. “Ennahda Movement wants to take Tunisia out of this transitional period in the shortest time, after the approval of the country’s new Constitution which should establish democracy, uphold the rule of law and guarantee freedoms.”
For his part, Fule insisted that the EU are also ready for cooperation with Tunisia, adding that it supports the democratic transition process and legitimacy in the North-African country.
“The European Union (EU) remains confident in the capacity of the Tunisian political leaders to find efficient solutions to the political, economic and social challenges faced by Tunisia in this transition period”, he said.
Good relations with Europe are essential for Tunisia, which – unlike neighboring Libya and Algeria – lacks vast oil and gas resources, relying on tourism as one of the main sources of income.