Published on 25 Jul 2013 Sections , , ,

Tunisian opposition party leader shot dead

Gunmen shoot dead Mohammed Brahmi, the leader of a leftist Tunisian opposition party, in the capital Tunis. It is the year’s second political assassination in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

Mr Brahmi, 58, an Arab nationalist and critic of the Islamist-led government, was in his car outside his home with his wife and daughter when gunmen fired multiple shots at him, said Interior Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Aroui.

The two attackers then fled on a moped, according to a neighbour quoted by state news media. Local reports claim he was shot 11 times.

This is the second assassination of an opposition member this year, following the killing of Chokri Belaid, like Brahmi a member of the leftist Popular Front coalition. Belaid was also shot dead in his car outside his home in February. His death sparked a political crisis that almost wrecked Tunisia’s political transition to democracy.

Tunisia is governed by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which won October 2011 elections and rules in a coalition with two secular parties.

The Tunisian public was not happy with the way in which the Chokri Belaid assassination investigation was dealt with… if they mess this up, I think it’s going to be extremely bad for them, for their domestic support – Laryssa Chomiak

The opposition has criticised Ennahda for not cracking down on Islamist extremists, and many members of Belaid’s party blame the government for his killing.

Mass protest

Soon after news broke of the death of Brahmi, crowds massed to protest outside the Interior Ministry in central Tunis. Demonstrations have since spread to the southern town of Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of the Tunisian revolution, where protesters set fire to the Ennahda headquarters.

“This is really going to put Ennahda on the spot right now,” said Laryssa Chomiak, director of the Tunis-based Institute for Maghreb Studies. “The Tunisian public was not happy with the way in which the Chokri Belaid assassination investigation was dealt with… if they mess this up, I think it’s going to be extremely bad for them, for their domestic support.”

In a statement, Ennahda condemned “this cowardly and despicable crime” and urged the government to “arrest those who committed this crime and reveal those behind them who have targeted the stability of the country.”

Brahmi’s widow, Mbarka Brahmi, who was with him at the time of the killing, said: “This criminal gang has killed the free voice of Brahmi,” though she did not specify who she thought was behind the shooting.

Democratic transition

Tunisia’s democratic transition since the revolt that overthrew autocrat President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 has been relatively calm, with moderate Islamist Ennahda sharing power with smaller secular groups.

But the Egyptian army’s toppling of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July following vast street protests against him has inspired anti-Islamist opposition in Tunisia.

Tunisia’s new constitution, which is being drafted by the constituent assembly of which Brahmi was a member, has been written and will be voted on in the coming weeks. Prime Minister Ali Larayedh promised on Monday that elections for a new president would be held before the end of the year.

Friday will be a day of mourning for Brahmi in Tunisia, announced Mustapha Ben Jaafar, the speaker of the national assembly in which Brahmi was a legislator.