Denial runs through Tunisia: you say we absorbed the shock?


Today, the one thing that devastated me the most is how quickly the president who is supposed to be a human rights defender, not just any president, stepped in to persuade us to get used to the spilling of blood.

Meriem Dhaouadi
18 February 2013

Nothing could be so outrageous and sickening than the attempts to return to normalcy following the murder of Chokri Belaid, the leftist opposition leader. Eliminating a political rival through such a barbaric act in the birthplace of the Arab spring should at least terminate faith in the status quo.

Almost two years after the uprising of January 14 2011, a new wave of violence threatens even the right to life in itself.  The first political assassination in the last five decades signals an imminent threat to the moderate nature of the small North African country, and a major threat to the democratization process. The Tunisian president‘s announcement on Thursday to the effect that the country has weathered the assassination shocked me.   Only the truth could alleviate the pain and grief I share with many Tunisians yearning to see the perpetrators of the murder behind bars. As long as the judicial system and administration remain in the hands of the majority party, there will be no absorbing the shock. As long as the government turns a blind eye to hate speech and incitement to murder, people must not simply move on.

In the immediate panic of the assassination, the prime minister Jebali announced the forming of a government of technocrats, the police suppressed the protests of the angry people that poured to the streets to denounce violence, the Ennahda party and the CPR  (the party of the president Marzouki) refused the formation of a non-partisan government, the perpetrators are still free, the government is still intact, Ennahda calls its supporters to protest in favour of its legitimacy.  Meanwhile death threats to journalists and political leaders continue to go unpunished. The mosques are infiltrated by advocates of hate and division. One of the widely circulated videos in the Tunisian blogosphere featured an imam claiming that the victim of this murder should not be buried in a Muslim cemetery because he is not a Muslim and a kefir, such a sickening fatwa delivered during a Friday sermon is unfortunately propagated to a wide audience and intensifies the tensions and polarizations inside Tunisian society.

Ansar Al Sharia Partisans of Islamic Law and the Leagues of the Protection of the revolution stepped in to ‘fill the security vacuum’ in recent days, by offering patrols in several suburbs in Tunisia -  these are the very same groups that staged the September 14 riots, besieged the American embassy in Tunis, the same people that intimidate journalists, activists, politicians and ordinary citizens, disrupt opposition parties meetings, attack art galleries and prevent theatre performances they deem profane. These self-appointed guardians of the public and private mores are likely to be welcomed in the densely populated and underprivileged neighbourhoods where people praise the volunteers for protecting the neighborhoods from looting, unaware that as citizens of the republic of Tunisia they should be protected by the law and security forces.

Two years ago I saw people spontaneously forming a sea of peaceful protesters; I saw national unity, a leaderless revolution. Today, the one thing that devastated me the most is how quickly the president who is supposed to be a human rights defender, not just any president, stepped in to persuade us to get used to the spilling of blood. I am worried that violence becomes a way of life. How will I explain to my children in the future how we failed the revolution?

We speak about a government that is complacent through silence. People rely on violence to solve disputes because government institutions are weak and partisan. The government’s hesitation to take any decisions stems mainly from their greed for power. Combatting violence should be a priority, it is escalating, it is becoming omnipresent. The legitimacy of the government does not stem only from the electoral process but it is also built upon the respect of the government for the basic rights of citizens. And chief among them is the right to life.

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