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Political assassination in Tunisia: silence would have been more tragic

Tuesday 16 April 2013, by siawi3

Afef Abrougui
Last updated: February 12, 2013


“Can the murder of Belaid reunite Tunisians?”

On February 6 Tunisians woke up to the shocking news of the assassination of Chokri Belaid, a leading member of the secular opposition, and a staunch opponent of the Islamist-led coalition government. Political assassinations are not common in Tunisia. The murder of Farhat Hached, founder of Tunisia’s largest labor union (UGTT), has by far been the most famous assassination in the country’s history.

A French colonialist terrorist group, known by “La Main Rouge” (the red hand) gunned down Hached on December 5, 1952 to put an end to his struggle for workers’ rights and anti-colonial strife. Yet, historians argue that the assassination of Hached only resulted in a staunch Tunisian resistance movement against the French colonizer, which would eventually lead to the country’s independence in 1956.

Belaid might not have been as popular as Hached, but he is a Tunisian citizen and “a Tunisian’s blood is priceless”. His party might not have won any seats following the October 2011 elections, but his assassination, just like that of Hached, is reviving a revolutionary spirit.

On February 7 award-winning journalist, Rachel Shabi wrote that “Tunisia is no longer a revolutionary poster-child”. In fact, with the assassination of Belaid Tunisia has become more revolutionary. Tens of thousands of protesters, across the country took to the streets to denounce this crime. I do not have exact statistics, but I have never seen as many Tunisians demonstrating for the same cause, not even during the weeks that preceded the ousting of Ben Ali.

On that tragic morning, I saw shock in the faces of my neighbors and sensed fear in the voices of passers-by who were discussing the news of the murder. Horror, however, was only a driving force behind mass protests. Fearing the worse, tens of thousands of protesters refused to remain silent.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “the ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people”. The assassination of Belaid is a real tragedy for Tunisia and its democratic transition. However, silence over the assassination “by the good people” of Tunisia would have been more tragic.

Half a century ago, the assassination of Farhat Hached gave birth to an anti-colonial resistance movement in Tunisia. Can the murder of Belaid reunite Tunisians, divided along ideological lines, in their struggle for equality, freedom and dignity?

Afef Abrougui is an International Relations student and a contributor for Global Voices Online. She reported for Index on Censorship on freedom of expression issues in Tunisia, and also worked as editor-in-chief of Tunisia Live.