Tunisia’s disconcerting violence
Arabic media review

Tunisia’s disconcerting violence

Political turmoil follows opposition leader's assassination in Tunisia, and Egypt continues to simmer

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Activists of the Islamic Party Ennahda wave flags and banners during a demonstration in Tunis Saturday Feb 9, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Hassene Dridi)
Activists of the Islamic Party Ennahda wave flags and banners during a demonstration in Tunis Saturday Feb 9, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Hassene Dridi)

Political unrest in Tunisia following the assassination last week of opposition leader Chokri Belaid leads the news in most Arabic-language dailies on Sunday.

London-based daily Al-Hayat reports a “show of force” by Tunisia’s Islamist parties on Saturday following controversial statements by French Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who condemned what he called “Islamic fascism” in Tunisia.

An estimated 3,000 protesters took to the streets of Tunis shouting “France get out” and defending the legitimacy of the Islamist-government led by the Ennahda party, which took much of the blame for crating the hostile atmosphere which enabled Belaid’s assassination.

On Saturday, Al-Hayat reported that Belaid’s mass funeral had turned into a “protest against Ennahda.”

Prime Minister Hamadi Jabali told Qatar-based news channel Al-Jazeera that he was committed to forming a new government composed entirely of technocrats with no political affiliation, a position rejected by members of his party Ennahda.

But a member of Jabali’s party told Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat that the prime minister’s decision created a deep rift within the party, terming Jabali’s move to form a technocrat government a “bloodless coup.”

The daily, which leads its front page on Sunday with the story, features a photo of a Tunisian protester carrying a sign depicting the French tricolor flag with the word dégage, or get out, written over it.

Referring to Tunisia’s nickname as “the green,” A-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Abdullah Al-Oteibi claims in an op-ed Sunday that the country has taken a turn for the worse since the start of its revolution, over two years ago.

“It is not with the blood of Chokri Belaid that Tunisia the Green lost its greenness, but from the start of what’s known as the Arab Spring it has known nothing of that greenness,” writes Oteibi. “Neither peace, nor stability, nor development, nor well-being. Today, following the bloodshed, it has become soiled with dark red.”

“Sadly, Shokri Belaid’s blood will not be the end but only the beginning. The escalation in violent religious rhetoric is sweeping Egypt and Tunisia and spreading in Libya and the Mali-Algeria-Mauritania triangle. It is spread, justified and supported by Islamists in Gulf states.”

Al-Hayat columnist Abdullah Iskandar also warns of Tunisia’s “violence-fostering environment,” following the assassination, claiming that the anti-government protests are an indicator of how far things have gone.

“Not all of those who took to the streets of Tunisia’s cities are supporters of the leftist oppositionist Chokri Belaid. Many of them voted for the candidates of the Islamist Ennahda party … they took to the streets … to announce their opposition to the direction the country has taken in returning to the former regime, be it through domination of the political scene or its treatment of the opposition,” writes Iskandar.

“Certainly, the Ennahda leadership did not centrally decide to assassinate Belaid. But the name of this oppositionist, associated with the state that the Islamist country wishes to eradicate, appeared on the hit list of a different Islamic group. The link between Ennahda’s policies and the hit list can be found in the conduct of this movement.”

Meanwhile, while condemning Belaid’s assassination, Ennahda leader Rashed Ghannoushi told Algerian daily Al-Khabar on Sunday that such assassinations are par for the course during revolutions, accusing the “counterrevolution” of standing behind the killing.

Egypt continues to ferment

The Egyptian government has rejected a proposal by opposition leader Amr Moussa to postpone the parliamentary elections from April, until civil unrest which has engulfed the country in past weeks subsides. Moussa suggested forming a temporary government to “save the economy” in the meantime, Al-Hayat reports.

Sources in the government told Al-Hayat that the constitution demands elections within 60 days of its ratification, leaving little room for maneuver.

Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera reports one fatality and 216 people injured in clashes between police and demonstrators near Ittihadiyah palace in Cairo on Friday, where the president’s offices are located.

During the protests, the station reports, Molotov cocktails, stones and firecrackers were hurled at the palace.

Establishment daily Al-Ahram that the anarchist group Black Bloc is threatening a new spell of violence on Monday, when Egypt marks the second anniversary of Hosni Mubarak’s stepping down.

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