Print options

February 10, 2013

Tunisians Question Future After Politician's Death

by Lisa Bryant

The shooting death of opposition politician Chokri Belaid has brought to a head simmering tensions in Tunisia and deep political and religious divisions. The North Africa country, once heralded as a model for Arab democracy, is struggling for a way forward.

A slain politician.  An outpouring of rage and grief.  Thousands of Tunisians attended Friday's funeral for opposition politician Chokri Belaid.  Many blamed the ruling Islamist Ennahda party for his death.

Mourad Habaid showed up with a Tunisian flag wrapped around his shoulders. Habaid says many Tunisians feel that their 2011 revolution has been derailed.  He does not know where his country is going.

Tunis University professor Hamadi Redissi says people are fed up with Ennahda for many reasons.  The once popular party has failed to deliver. "Ennahda has no more credentials.  Ennahda has lost its moral values.  Ennahda did not improve economics.  Did not make what it promised to people. So politically Ennahda is very weak today," he said.

Basic public services have deteriorated. Insecurity has skyrocketed - including attacks by hardline Islamists against secular politicians and artists.

Two years after uniting to throw off a dictatorship, Tunisians are divided on the way forward.  Some, like taxi Fuad Kedimi, are nostalgic for the past. Kedimi says people lived well under the old regime.  There was security and lots of tourism and work.  Life was good.

Ennahda and its supporters say they are being unfairly blamed for Belaid's death - and for Tunisia's post-revolutionary problems.  Some claim outside forces want to destroy Tunisia's revolution.

English teacher Fatah Ousleti, who joined a pro-Ennahda rally in Tunis on Saturday, defends the party. "We think Ennahda is good.  It worked a lot.  It went through difficulties and hardships all along its life.  It went to prison.  It went abroad.  They were deprived of all their rights.  And now they are the ones who rule Tunisia ... it was a gesture of gratitude toward them and their struggle against tyranny and dictatorship," she said.

The divisions on Tunisia's streets are reflected in the government.  Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali threatens to resign unless a new, non-political Cabinet is named to defuse the tensions.  His own Ennahda party has rejected the proposal.

Ennahda's Meherzia Labidi, the National Assembly's deputy speaker, wants the coalition government to find a compromise.  She agrees the country's tensions are worrying. "Tunisia is divided, but not only by religion ... I think we have two extremes.  We have extremists on the side of secularists - they want Tunisia to be without religion at all ... they are a small group.  And there is another small group of religious people that wants Tunisia to be only Muslim, practicing ... but let me remind you of the huge mass of Tunisians who are in between," she said.

That, Labidi says, is where Tunisians can find common ground.

But for now, Tunisia appears adrift.  Unsure of the next step after Belaid's death.