Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Tunisia over the murder of a leftwing secular opposition leader in a shooting outside his home in Tunis.
Mohammed Brahmi, aged 58, was killed on Thursday morning by two gunmen as he sat in his car outside his home. He was hit eleven times before his assailants escaped on a moped. The killing was reportedly witnessed by members of his family, including his wife and handicapped daughter.
“He was shot in front of his house when he was with his disabled daughter,” Mohamed Nabki, a member of Brahmi’s secular party, told Reuters. “The killers fled on a motorbike.”
“This criminal gang has killed the free voice of Brahmi,” his widow Mbarka Brahmi said in a statement to the media.By Thursday evening the Echab newspaper – allied with Tunisia’s UGTT union – was carrying a full page picture of Brahmi’s face describing him as a ‘martyr.
Brahmi, a member of Tunisia’s constituent assembly, had been a loud critic of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party, which came to power in elections after the overthrow of the country’s autocratic leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, the first of the region’s leaders to fall from power during the Arab spring.
The shooting is the second assassination in six months of an opposition figure after February’s murder of Chokri Belaïd, also a Popular Front coalition member.
Ennahda condemned the murder and Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the party, said it was aimed at “halting Tunisia’s democratic process and killing the only successful model in the region”.
The killing comes amid emerging tensions in North Africa following the Egyptian army’s overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government of Mohamed Morsi on 3 July, an event that has energised secular opposition parties in Tunisia in recent weeks. Tunisia is led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party, which dominated October 2011 elections and rules in a coalition with two secular parties.
Tunisia’s tamarod or “rebellion” organisation – modelled on the grouping that helped lead to the overthrow of Morsi – repeated its call for Tunisia’s parliament to be dissolved. Calling for mass protests – modelled on those that brought down Egypt’s Morsi – it stated “the streets are the solution”.
Following the killing of Brahmi largely secular supporters gathered to demonstrated outside the ministry of the interior in Tunis and in the central thoroughfare of Avenue Habib Bourguiba. Protests also erupted in Sidi Bouzid where the headquarters of the Ennadha party was attacked and set on fire.
Others gathered outside the hospital where Brahmi’s body was taken among them his daughter Belkaeis, and – in scenes reminiscent of the Tunisian revolution two and a half years ago – chanted “down with the rule of the Islamists”.
The latest killing in Tunisia – birthplace of the Arab Spring – comes in a country that until very recently was regarded as being a success story among the wave of insurrections that began in 2011 after a fruit seller set himself on fire in Sidi Bouzid.
The killing has striking similarities to the murder of Belaïd whose death provoked a political crisis that nearly derailed Tunisia’s political transition.
Opposition supporters blamed the Ennahda Party for not doing enough to bring to justice Belaïd’s killers – suspected of being militant Islamists.
The opposition has criticized Ennahda for not cracking down on Islamist extremists, and many members of Belaïd’s party hold the government responsible for his assassination.
“This is really going to put Ennahda on the spot right now,” said Laryssa Chomiak, director of the Institute for Maghreb Studies in Tunis.
“The Tunisian public was not happy with the way in which the Chokri Belaïd 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 on Thursday, Ennahda condemned “this cowardly and despicable crime” and called on the government to “urgently arrest those who committed this crime and reveal those behind them who have targeted the stability of the country.”