2013–2014 Tunisian political crisis
A political crisis evolved in Tunisia following the assassination of leftist leader Mohamed Brahmi in late July 2013, during which the country's mainly secular opposition organized several protests against the ruling Troika alliance that was dominated by Rashid al-Ghannushi's Islamist Ennahda Movement. The events came as part of the aftermath of the Tunisian Revolution which ousted the country's longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, followed by a general election which saw Ennahda win a plurality alongside Moncef Marzouki's allied Congress for the Republic (CPR). The crisis gradually subsided when Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh resigned and a new constitution was adopted in January 2014.
2013–2014 Tunisian political crisis
Part of the aftermath of the Tunisian Revolution
Date25 July 2013 – 2014
  • Resignation of the Islamist-led government.[1][2]
  • Secular constitution
Resulted in
  • Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh resigns and replaced by a technocratic government formed by Mehdi Jomaa, a former minister in Laarayedh's government.
  • New constitution passed, which gives Islam a role as the state religion
  • Continuing protests against terrorism[3] and economic hardship[4] among other issues.
Parties to the civil conflict
Lead figures
Many incidents fueled the protests including the assassination of prominent secular leaders Chokri Belaid on 6 February 2013 and Mohamed Brahmi on 25 July.[14] Other factors include the government's failure to deal with the rise of hardline Salafist groups including Ansar al-Sharia which is widely believed to be behind the assassinations, as well as many other attacks on security personnel and state institutions.[15][16] This prompted the government to list the group as a terrorist organization amid growing pressure by opposition groups.[17]
The protests intensified on 23 October 2013, when thousands of demonstrators took to the streets calling for the government to step down hours before talks between the ruling Islamist coalition and opposition leaders that concluded with Ennahda promising to resign in three weeks ending a months-old political deadlock.[18] In exchange for Ennahda's resignation, the opposition agreed to pass a constitution in which freedom of worship will be guaranteed but in the same time gave a greater role to religion in public life than before.[19]
Tunisian revolution of 2011
Main article: Tunisian revolution
A period of civil resistance characterized by riots and unrest took place throughout the nation following the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi on 17 December 2011 and fueled by high unemployment, corruption, political repression and poor living conditions forcing President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country ending his 23-year rule over Tunisia.[20][21] This was followed by the suspension then dissolution of the former ruling RCD party and the resignation of Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi amid further public pressure.[22]
Constituent Assembly and new government
Main article: 2011 Tunisian Constituent Assembly election
See also: Ennahda Movement
Ennahda leader Rashid al-Ghannushi.
Following the revolution, an election for a constituent assembly which had 217 seats was held on 23 October 2011 that saw the Ennahda Movement led by Rashid al-Ghannushi win a plurality in the election (41% of the seats) closely followed by the Congress for the Republic (CPR) led by Moncef Marzouki (13.4% of the seats) who was later elected as President of Tunisia by the Constituent Assembly.[23][24]
The Ennahda Movement had long been banned in the political spectrum by former President Ben Ali, most notably in the 1989 elections where some of its members had to run independently due to government repression.[25] Two years after the elections Ben Ali jailed nearly 25,000 of its activists with Ennahda militants responding by attacking the ruling party's headquarters killing one person and splashing acid on others.[26] Following the revolution, it described itself to be a "moderate Islamist" party by advocating democracy and recognizing political pluralism and dialogue with the West. Its supporters back then regarded the party as an example of how a balance can be struck between modernity and Islamism while its critics viewed it as a threat to secularism in Tunisia, which was often regarded as the most secular Arab state.[27][28] In addition, leading Ennahda figures have repeatedly tried to reassure worrying Tunisians that it would protect civil rights and democracy.[27] However, the movement was accused to have been shaped by Qutbism and is highly influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and many of its secular opponents pointing out to acid attacks on female students in the 1980s for dressing "indecently" as a warning sign from Islamist repression.[25][27][29] It is also believed that Rashid al-Ghannushi himself, the co-founder of the party had a long history of violent thinking.[25] Following Ben Ali's ouster, the party was legalized and Ghannushi was welcomed by a crowd of 1,000 people upon his return to the country after 22 years of exile in Europe.[30] Ghannushi later formed an alliance called the Troika with two secular political parties which are Moncef Marzouki's CPR and the Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties.[31]
Political assassinations
Assassinated Tunisian politicians Chokri Belaid (on the left) and Mohamed Brahmi (on the right).
The protests were fueled by high scale political assassinations, most notably the murder of Democratic Patriots' Movement leader Chokri Belaid on 6 February 2013 and of People's Movement leader and member of parliament Mohamed Brahmi on 25 July 2013 who were both members of the same left-wing coalition. Both murders were blamed on Islamic extremists with Boubacar Hakim, a hardline Salafist who is being sought for under suspicion of smuggling weapons from Libya, as the prime suspect.[32]
Assassination of Chokri Belaid
On 6 February 2013, Chokri Belaid was leaving his house on his way to the headquarters of the Tunisian General Labour Union for a meeting with its secretary general when he was shot four times by a gunman who later took off on a motorbike driven by a second accomplice.[33] Belaid was quickly rushed to the nearest clinic but the doctors were unable to save him and he was pronounced dead at the clinic.[34] Current secretary general of Belaid's party and leader of the Popular Front, Ziad Lakhdhar, said in a statement: "Chokri Belaid was killed today by four bullets to the head and chest ... doctors told us that he has died. This is a sad day for Tunisia".[35] It was also reported that Belaid had received several death threats prior to his assassination with many of his supporters blaming Ennahda for failing to protect him following those threats and an incident targeting fellow party members a week earlier.[36][37] Belaid had always attacked the "Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution" (LPR), a government-aligned nationwide organization that claims to root out remnants of Ben Ali's regime but are accused of thuggish behaviour towards opposition groups, and he claimed that there are groups inside Ennahda that incite violence and that the LPR's committees are tools used by the government and its allied Islamists to get rid of the party's leftist coalition.[38][39][40][41] The night before the incident, he appeared in a political talk show on Tunisia's Nessma TV and said; "Rashid Ghannushi considers the leagues to be the conscience of the nation, so the defense of the authors of violence is clear. All those who oppose Ennahda become the targets of violence."[38] Following his assassination, thousands of demonstrators gathered outside the Interior Ministry building in Tunis carrying Belaid's coffin and shouted "The people demand the fall of the regime". The day turned violent when some of the protesters threw rocks with the police using tear gas to disperse the rallies.[42]
Assassination of Mohamed Brahmi
On 25 July 2013, Mohamed Brahmi was shot dead in his car in front of his home in Tunis by unknown gunmen on a motorbike in front of his wife Mbarka and his daughter Belkis who were both shocked after the tragedy.[43] The incident occurred on the day Tunisia was set to celebrate Republic Day when the country was celebrating the 56th anniversary of the beginning of Habib Bourguiba's presidency. He was later transported to Charles Nicolle Hospital after being paraded down Avenue Habib Bourguiba by thousands of his supporters including relatives and fellow party members who demonstrated and blamed the incumbent Ennahda Party and their followers for the assassination while shouting "Down with the rule of the Islamists!". They were also joined by his wife and daughter in front of the hospital where he died.[43][44][45][46] Hundreds of supporters also protested in Brahmi's hometown of Sidi Bouzid.[44] During Brahmi's funeral, protesters called for the government to be toppled, while police fired tear gas on them.[47] According to a statement made by the Tunisian Prosecutor regarding the autopsy of Brahmi's corpse; "The deceased had been hit with fourteen gunshots: six in his torso and eight in his left leg".[48] Brahmi's killing was condemned by many international leaders including UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay and President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz who said in a statement; "I am deeply saddened to learn of the despicable murder of our colleague Mohamed Brahmi. I condemn this assassination in the strongest terms."[49][50]
Investigations had been issued following both assassinations and Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou announced at a news conference that the same 9mm automatic weapon that killed Belaid also killed Brahmi.[51][52] The Chokri Belaid defense committee spokesman Tayeb Oqaili claimed on 2 October that, according to official documents, Abdulhakim Belhadj of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group was involved in the killings of both Belaid and Brahmi, pointing to links between the LIFG, Ansar al Sharia and the Ennahda Movement. The left-wing leader maintained that Belhadj apparently intended to carry out terrorist attacks in Tunisia, and trained the Ansar al-Sharia cell that killed the opposition politicians, all under close observation by Ennahda leaders Rashid al-Ghannushi, Hamadi Jebali and Samir Dilou, among others.[53] On 19 September 2013, Tunisia's interior minister told lawmakers the CIA informed authorities Brahmi was a target and said there'd been a "failure" in the security services' response. He announced an investigation had been opened.[54]
Rise of extremism
The post-revolution Tunisia has witnessed an unprecedented rise in extremism through increasing militant activity, weapons smuggling from Libya and involvement in the political scene.[55] They range from self-claimed moderate parties like Ennahda to the more hard-line Ansar al-Sharia and Hizb ut-Tahrir. Most of them denounced violence as a way to reach their goals and have advocated democracy.[56][57] However, some have been engaged in numerous clashes with security forces mainly in the south and north-west of the country resulting in numerous casualties on both sides in a conflict that is often related to the wider Maghreb insurgency.[58] Several attacks by extremist factions took place in the Mount Chaambi national park on the border with Algeria. On 29 July 2013, a military convoy was ambushed by militants resulting in a number of deaths with many of the victims found beheaded and others mutilated. A week later, the Tunisian Armed Forces responded with an army offensive and air strikes to clear out the mountains of Islamist elements responsible for the assaults.[58][59]
One of the most prominent extremist organizations is Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST) that was highly involved in the political scene before being listed by the government as a terrorist group.[17] The group was founded in April 2011 by Abu Iyadh al-Tunisi, who had previously co-founded the Tunisian Combat Group (TCG) in Afghanistan with Tarek Maaroufi.[60] Unlike Al-Qaeda and other like-minded groups in the Arab world, the AST claims to be non-violent and engages in charitable activity as a way of gaining support providing food, medicine and clothing while at the same time preaching mainstream Salafist thinking.[61] However, they have been involved in numerous violent incidents such as their alleged role in the storming of the US embassy in Tunis and an attack on a television station that showed the animated film Persepolis because it depicted God while repeatedly calling for the Islamization of the Tunisian media.[28][62][63] They have also carried out attacks on art exhibits, premises that sell alcohol and ransacked ancient shrines it considered un-Islamic.[64][65]
Popular Front gathering in April 2013. Some are carrying posters demanding justice for Chokri Belaid.
See also
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