Since opposition figure Chokri Belaid was assassinated, Tunisia has been thrown into total turmoil. Political violence is rare in Tunisia, so the assassination targeting a household name and performed in such spectacular style – Belaid was shot four times at point blank range by an unknown gunman outside his home – shook Tunisians to the core.
Following news of his death, protesters took to the streets of Tunis, clashing with police and calling for the fall of the regime. President Moncef Marzouki flew straight back to Tunisia, cutting short his visit to France and cancelling his trip to Egypt. Four Tunisian opposition groups met in an historic and unprecedented meeting and announced their withdrawal from the national assembly. Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said he would dissolve the government and install a small cabinet of technocrats in its place until elections. And al-Nahda, the ruling Islamist party and the party of which the prime minister is a member, rejected Jebali’s proposed dissolution.
This has truly been one of the longest 24 hours in Tunisian politics. The scale of the response against al-Nahda and the new unified stance of the opposition could prove to be a turning point in Tunisian politics. All this was triggered by the death of the 49-year-old lawyer and secretary general of the Unified Patriotic Democratic Party (UPDP). But who was he?
Student activist in the 1980s, civil rights advocate since the 1990s and prominent anti-Ben Ali figure, Belaid became a household name from January 2011, peering through the television screens almost daily, with his trade mark thick moustache, fluent speech and forceful opinions. He was smeared by Imams in mosques as being an atheist (‘kafir’); accused of being an informant for former president Ben Ali; blamed for instigating strikes and demonstrations by the government; and satirised in comedies and on social media.
At the same time, he was – just like his even more iconic friend and fellow leftist, Hamma Hammami – “humanised” to the general public through human interest stories such as television visits to his home and appearances on social programmes and even in Ramadan entertainment shows. In addition, Belaid was a burgeoning poet before devoting himself to politics. He often quoted the literary tradition at will and spoke flawless Arabic. For these reasons, he could not be accused of being the traditional uprooted Francophile secularist or the customary dogmatic Marxist.
And like in life, his tragic death also had poetic overtones. His assassination was foretold in more than the many threats he received, publicly and in private, and as a poet, he is best remembered for a poem dedicated to Husain Muruwa, the Lebanese intellectual assassinated by Islamists in the late 1990s.
Along with his popular appeal, Belaid maintained a strong line against neoliberal policies and vociferously opposed many Islamist ideas. His message as well as his profile seem to have resonated well with the core values of the revolution: work, dignity and freedom. His line of thought and action ran through Tunisian politics largely through the potent and ubiquitous Tunisian General Union of Labour (UGTT) in which the Tunisian left has maintained a strong presence at the regional as well as national levels. The same is true of the student movement, which Belaid led and in which he had his training as an activist.
His appeal also has been complemented by a rather traditional leftist profile: he lived in a rented apartment with his wife and two young daughters; he did not own a car; he spoke the dialect of the interior regions of the country and avoided glamorous and rich circles.
Behind Belaid’s personal and activist story lies the complex and compelling story of the Tunisian left as a whole. Responses to his death may well mark the end of the line for Islamist politics as we know it in Tunisia. It may also mark the rise of a unified opposition, which now realises that its fight is not only, or no longer, for freedom of expression and association, but an existential one – a matter of survival.
If Belaid was a thorn in the side of the al-Nahda, the Salafis and the government during his life, he is likely to be a decisive nail in their coffin now that he is dead. The split emerging between prime minister Jebali and al-Nahda is perhaps the start of this trend. But amidst this still-developing situation, one thing is now a reality: Tunisia, which prided itself on peaceful politics, is no longer an exception in the region.
This article was first published by Think Africa Press.
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant