The assassination of prominent Tunisian opposition figure Chokri Belaid a year ago Thursday ignited a crisis which is only now starting to ease following the adoption of a new constitution.
On February 6, 2013, Tunisians were stunned to learn of the death of the 48-year-old lawyer and leftist politician who had been a fierce critic of Ennahda, the Islamist party that rose to power after the first Arab Spring uprising toppled a long-ruling dictator.
It was the first of two political assassinations last year that fuelled rising unrest and eventually forced Ennahda, a moderate Islamist movement, to step down in January under a deal to end the crisis.
Belaid was gunned down at close range outside his house, with the authorities blaming jihadists from Ansar al-Sharia, a Salafist group allegedly linked to Al-Qaeda that was later designated a “terrorist” organisation.
But the group never claimed the attack, and neither the assassin nor the organisers have ever been identified, with only suspected accomplices jailed.
Relatives of the slain politician will hold a press conference Thursday on the state of the investigation, with a candlelit vigil also planned on Habib Bourguiba avenue in central Tunis.
Activists have also called for a demonstration on Saturday, to mark the anniversary of Belaid’s burial, when a general strike brought Tunisia to a standstill and tens of thousands turned out to pay homage to him, in what became a mass anti-Ennahda rally.
“We don’t know anything (about what really happened). All scenarios are possible,” said Belaid’s widow Basma Khalfaoui, who at the time publicly blamed the ruling Islamists for the assassination.
Today she says they are at least guilty of having “hidden” key documents in the murder inquiry.
As for the commitment by newly appointed Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa to “uncover the truth and bring all those guilty to justice,” Khalfaoui says she expects strong measures.
“We no longer believe in commitments. We will judge by actions,” she said.
Belaid’s murder was followed by an intensification of violence between security forces and jihadist groups. Last year some 20 soldiers and police were killed, mainly in the Chaambi mountain region along the border with Algeria.
The opposition seized upon the murder as proof that Ennahda had failed to contain militant Islamist groups suppressed under former strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, whose January 2011 ouster inspired revolts across the region.
Ennahda’s prime minister at the time, Hamadi Jebali, tried to form a cabinet of technocrats in a bid to end the crisis, but failed to do so in the face of opposition from his party and finally resigned.
Opposition parties were furious at the appointment of interior minister Ali Larayedh to replace Jebali, a choice that deepened political divisions, especially with the assassination on July 25 of opposition MP Mohamed Brahmi, also by suspected jihadists.
In the wake of Belaid’s assassination, Ennahda’s veteran leader Rached Ghannouchi insisted on his party’s right to continue leading the coalition government.
Ennahda, which in October 2011 won Tunisia’s first free election, “will never relinquish power as long as it enjoys the support of the people and the legitimacy of the ballot,” he said.
But last month, under a hard-fought agreement to stabilise the country and end the political turmoil, Larayedh was replaced by his former industry minister Mehdi Jomaa, who was chosen to head a new government of independents and lead the country to fresh elections.
The transition followed months of fraught negotiations, strikes, protests and the suspension of the national assembly, which finally adopted the new constitution on January 26.
In the view of some Tunisian newspapers, it took two political assassinations and the military coup in Egypt that ousted the Muslim Brotherhood’s president Mohamed Morsi to force Tunisia’s ruling Islamists to strike a deal with the opposition.
The Essabah daily said Ennahda had drawn lessons from these events, renouncing its “controlling tendencies” in order to survive the crisis.