The Assassination of Chokri Belaid: When Ghannouchi Legitimizes Violence

Basma Khalfaoui Belaid (C) flashes the victory sign and carries a portrait of her slain husband Chokri Belaid during a demonstration in front of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) in Tunis, on 11 February 2013. (Photo: Fethi Belaid – AFP)
Published Monday, February 11, 2013
On Wednesday, 6 February 2013, as Chokri Belaid was leaving for work, a man approached and fired at him at close range. Taken to a nearby clinic, he later died. Good bye, comrade Belaid.
Belaid, a fierce critic of the so-called “moderate” Islamist al-Nahda Party currently in power, was the general coordinator for the leftist Unified Democratic Patriotic Party (a.k.a. al-Watad) and a leader of the Popular Front in Tunisia. The spokesperson of the Front, Hamma Hammami, accused the government of tolerating violence. Speaking at a press conference, he insisted that the government is responsible for Belaid’s assassination.

Commenting on the murder on BBC Arabic, Abdul-Nasser Laouni, a comrade of Belaid, also accused al-Nahda of being behind the crime. Likewise, Belaid’s wife and sister blamed their loved one’s death on the ruling party.

Yet, senior members of al-Nahda condemned the assassination of Belaid and described it as a political crime.

Political violence in Tunisia is, unfortunately, not something new. Violence against political activists has been ongoing since the October 2011 elections. The so-called League for the Protection of the Revolution is one group responsible for the aggression toward political activists. Many believe that the so-called “leagues” are militias managed by al-Nahda. Samir Taieb from al-Massar Party accused Rachid Ghannouchi, the long-time leader of al-Nahda and the de facto ruler of Tunisia, of standing behind the mob and militia attacks on opposition parties.

Whenever the so-called “leagues” engage in violence, al-Nahda’s leadership steps up with an apologetic discourse for the violent group. Ghannouchi, once defending some fundamentalists accused of perpetrating violence, said that the Salafis are our sons and that they remind him of his youth.

The clear support for militias and mobs further seeped into the latest statement issued by al-Nahda’s politburo, or shura council. In the document the politburo expresses its support for members of the militia, the so-called “leagues,” who happened to be arrested upon the murder of Lotfi Nakhd in October 2012. Nakhd was a member of the opposition party the Call of Tunisia.

The accusations against Rachid Ghannouchi of instigating political violence are not groundless.

In his writings, Ghannouchi does not seem to have problems with violence. In one of his books, he writes that some Muslim clerics legitimize the killing of political leaders who do not govern according to the teachings of Islam. Ghannouchi argues that these clerics back up their arguments with the assassination of Yahya Ibn Akhtab, instigated by the Prophet Mohammad, or more recently with the killing of Sadat in Egypt.

A few years ago, when I read Azzam Tamimi’s book Rachid Ghannouchi: A Democrat Within Islamism, I wondered whether Tamimi was talking about the same Ghannouchi I knew. Ghannouchi does not believe in democracy – he thinks of people as a community of believers in the religious sense. This conception is in contrast to the very idea of democracy, which is based on the idea of citizenship and requires equality before the law, irrespective of faith or creed. In his writings, Ghannouchi reveals that he believes non-Muslims are not equal to Muslims, and that women are inferior to men. These are anti-democratic views.

After his return from exile in London, Ghannouchi sought to install himself as a supreme, Khomeini-like leader; al-Nahda’s mobs might well become a revolutionary guard. These attempts were faced with strong resistance from the opposition parties, civil society, and the Tunisian people in general.

There are moderates in al-Nahda, but al-Nahda as an organization is not moderate, and its ideology, based on a conservative interpretation of Islam, is rather reactionary. Ghannouchi’s policies and his complicity with a militia, the so-called “leagues,” are responsible for the escalation of political violence in Tunisia. Over the last couple of months, opposition parties and Tunisian civil society groups have been expressing their concerns about the possibility of civil war.

Ghannouchi thinks that Tunisians are not Muslim enough and they need to be Islamicized. Tunisia does not need to be Islamicized. Instead, al-Nahda must convert to “Tunisianism” – our moderate and tolerant way of life.

Shawky Arif is a Tunisian political activist and PhD candidate in Economics at the University of East Anglia.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar’s editorial policy.

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