Tunisia general strike called following Brahmi assassination


On Thursday, 25 July 2013, Tunisian opposition leader Mohamed Brahmi was gunned down outside his home. His attackers reportedly shot him between 5 and 11 times before fleeing on a scooter; his wife and daughter witnessed the assassination.

His death follows the assassination of one of the leaders of the left-wing Popular Front, Chokri Belaïd, less than six months ago. Belaïd was also gunned down just outside his family home on 6 February and preliminary reports from the Interior Ministry suggest that both Brahmi and Belaïd may have been shot with the same gun.

Brahmi, 58, was a deputy in the National Constituent Assembly, Tunisia’s provisional parliament. Until early July, he had led the Movement of the People party and, like Belaïd, he was a critic of Tunisia’s religious Ennahda government.

In February after Belaïd’s assassination, Brahmi’s party joined the Popular Front - the left-wing coalition in the Assembly which is opposed to the Ennahda government.

He led a breakaway group from his own party in July.



Shortly after the news broke, a group of angry demonstrators, shouting anti-government slogans, had congregated outside the Interior Ministry in Tunis to protest against the assassination. “It’s the Islamists. That’s all,” said one of the protestors.

A woman demonstrating with her daughters angrily attacked the Ennahda government: “We are against this provisional, illegitimate government. We do not want to bear the incompetence of this government anymore.”

There were reports that in Sidi Bouzid, the birth place of the 2011 Tunisian Revolution, that demonstrators had burnt down the local Ennahda office.

Belaïd’s assassination in February led to huge demonstrations and a general strike called by the powerful UGTT union on the day of Belaïd’s funeral on 8 February.

On Friday, 26 July, UGTT announced a general strike in protest at the assassination of Brahmi.

Hamadi Jebali, the Ennhada prime minister at the time of Belaïd’s murder, proposed a new government to end the political crisis, but eventually resigned as his own party refused to accept his proposal.

Ennahda remained in power and no one has been charged with Belaïd’s murder.


New constitution

After the Tunisian dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown in a popular revolt in January 2011 a provisional National Constituent Assembly was elected in October 2011.

Tunisians were voting for the first time in their lives.

The Islamist party Ennahda won the majority of the seats and has since governed in coalition with two smaller parties.

The new National Constituent Assembly was charged with writing a fresh constitution within a few months and then moving to elections under the new constitution by October 2012. But this has not happened.

Opponents of the Ennahda government accuse it of stalling and using the time to embed its supporters in positions of power in the government and society.

The draft constitution is still being debated inside a committee within the National Constituent Assembly. National elections await agreement on the constitution.

There is a fierce debate around the draft constitution and whether it should be secular, relying on concepts of universal human rights, or whether it should include religious elements.


Muslim Brotherhood

Tensions are high in Tunisia because of the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt on 3 July.

The Muslim Brotherhood is closely allied to Ennahda in Tunisia.

The day before Brahmi’s murder, the Tunisian press reported that Basma Khalfaoui, the widely respected widow of Belaïd had stated that the Popular Front supported the call for the resignation of both the Ennahda government and the National Constituent Assembly.

She is quoted as saying that “the majority of the people think that the members of [Ennahda party] represent the counter revolution.”

She called for support for an anti-government demonstration to take place on 6 August.

The economy and unemployment were major issues before the revolution in 2011 and unemployment is still a key issue for young people struggling to live.

The official unemployment rate stands at around 17 per cent but youth unemployment is thought to be around 30 per cent.

Young Tunisians feel betrayed as the Ennahda government has failed to respond to their 2011 demands for ‘dignity’ and social and economic rights.

Few Tunisians believe Ennahda would win as many votes as it did in the 2011 if elections were held now.