In Tunisia, protests are nothing new; the Arab Spring cascaded after a Tunisian man set himself on fire in demonstration against the way the police were treating him. This week, mass protests have erupted after Chokri Belaid, the infamous opposition leader in Tunisia, was assassinated. This is the largest protest since December 2010.
The labor unions, called for a strike on the day of Chokri Belaid’s funeral. More than 50,000 people paid respects to the anti-Islamist leader as enormous protests erupted in Gafsa and Tunis, the Capital. Police responded by firing tear gas into the crowd.
This marks a turning point in Tunisia’s history. The country has been on the brink of economic collapse for some time, grasping fervently for stability. Now, newly ignited turmoil can plunge the country into deeper social, political, and economic unrest, something neither Tunisia nor the Arab World can afford.
The announcement that Chokri Belaid was assassinated came from the Ennahda party, the dominant party currently governing the fragile state. Belaid, an outspoken critic of the Islamist party, often clashed with the party’s views. The gunman who killed Belaid is still on the loose but tension between Islamists and secular liberals is high.
Prime Minister Hamdi Jebali said that he would dissolve the government and form a unity coalition of technocrats to rule until elections are held. Allegedly, Jebali did not consult with his party before making the announcement and the already divided party, rejected the proposal.
Now, the situation is bound to escalate and spread beyond Tunisia’s borders. Already in Egypt, where political calm is long gone, the opposition has reengaged; clashes between the police and protestors have erupted in the streets.
This is a new chapter in the history book of the Arab Spring- religious differences that ignite bloody political unrest. Attention is on Tunisia once again. Will protests escalate into civil war? Will renewed political unrest spread into other parts of the Middle East? Or will it be contained within Tunisia?
The international community has begun to respond. Former Tunisia colonizer, France, is closing schools in the capital to avoid getting caught in the crossfire. The Obama Administration has yet to respond but United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon condemned the assassination.
At this fragile time, political calm needs to restore. We must vigilantly monitor the situation before making any rash moves.