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Assassination of Tunisia’s leading opposition figure shows fragile security, high tensions

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The killing of Chokri Belaid, a leading leftist opposition figure in Tunisia, shows that the country has failed to offer security to its citizens amid escalating political tensions.

Belaid known as a fierce critic of the Islamist-led government was gunned down outside his home on Wednesday. His killing sparked protests across Tunisia, police fired rounds of tear gas in the capital to disperse young protesters.

This further divided Tunisians who were long proud– at least in comparison to other Arab countries – of having a more modern culture with national dialogue.

But Belaid, who is the head of the Party of Democratic Patriots (PPD), is not the first to fall victim, as political sparring and violence take its toll on the country, since the toppling of dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

On October 2012, Lutfi Al-Naqdh, coordination head of the Nida Tunis party in Tataween province in southern Tunisia, was killed. Investigations are still ongoing to find Naqdh’s killers.

“We cannot point fingers right now as to who is behind Belaid’s killing, but his sharp criticism of the parties ruling the country created some concerns,” Tunis-based Abdellatif Hanashi, an analyst specialized on Islamist movements, told Al Arabiya, adding “before his killing, the country was witnessing high amount of political tension.”

On the eve of his death, Belaid denounced what he called “attempts to dismantle the state and the creation of militias to terrorize citizens and drag the country into a spiral of violence.”

Belaid, whose party holds only one seat in the National Constituent Assembly, was active in recruiting students from universities to counter the rise of Islamists influence in the country.

“In political speeches, there is incitement for violence, and no party is exempt,” Hanashi said.

The ruling Ennahda party is allegedly linked to the Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution (LPR), which is made up of paramilitary clusters. LPR was accused of suppressing any form of criticism towards the government especially after anger and dissatisfaction become widespread, due to the government’s failure of not fulfilling the revolution’s promises including the delivery of economic opportunities.

On December 12 last year, the General Union of Tunisian Labor (UGTT) called a one-day national strike after the beating and assault of its members by LPR.

Despite accusations LPR was behind some of these violent incidents, leader of Ennahda party, Rached Al-Ghannouchi, described the group as the revolution’s “consciousness,” thereby not giving those who have opened investigations against the party a change to prosecute or even question them.

But as political squabbles, polarization and heightened political speeches exacerbated the security scene; the Tunisian analyst sounded alarm bells and said the main ministries responsible for the country’s safety should at least be neutral, professional and independent.

“Today, only the defense ministry is technocrat. All of the interior, justice and foreign ministries need to be neutralized,” to reduce political tension and tighten Tunis’s grip on security,” Hanashi said.

On January 14, Tunisians marked the second anniversary of Ben Ali’s exile, however political tensions surmounted.

Tunisia deadlocked on its new constitution along with the growing influence of radical Islamists.

Hanashi rejected Belaid’s killing could be a consequence of polarization between both the secular and Islamist Tunisian camps.

Like the analyst, Mohammed Razan, a political activist, also snubbed the alleged schism between seculars and Islamists and emphasized Belaid’s killing was due to the ongoing political struggle in the country.

“In Tunis we are not used to such assassinations,” Razan said, expressing sorrow at the fact that even after Belaid’s death there are still people insulting him on Facebook.