General strike rocks Tunisia

Thousands of people massed on Feb. 8 in Tunis for the funeral of slain opposition leader Chokri Belaid, with the city shut down in a general strike called by the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT). “With our blood and our souls we will sacrifice ourselves for the martyr,” shouted the mourners, who included some prominent politicians. Chants also denouned the ruling Ennahda party as “assassins.” Police fired tear-gas and warning shots as clashes erupted. Strikes and clashes were also reported in other cities, with police firing tear-gas on protesters in Sousse and the mining town of Gafsa. Two days of protests across the country have left scores injured and a police officer dead. (Middle East Online, Middle East Online, Al Jazeera, AFP, The Lede, Feb. 8)

Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali is vowing to move ahead with his plan to form a “technocrat” caretaker government—despite protests from his own Ennahda party. “The prime minister did not ask the opinion of his party,” Abdelhamid Jelassi, Ennahda’s vice president, said in a statement reported on the party’s website rejecting the proposal. “We in Ennahda believe Tunisia needs a political government now. We will continue discussions with other parties about forming a coalition government.” (CNN, NYT, Feb. 8)

In another sign of polarization, two more Sufi shrines were desecrated by Salafists this week—in Monastir and Mahdia. “There is a systematic plan by some religious extremist groups to completely destroy these historical symbols; something that indicates an intention to target our national memory,” Culture Minister Mehdi Mabrouk said in response to the wave of desecrations. (Magharebia, Feb. 4)

The UGTT, founded in 1946, was one of the few political formations tolerated by the former regime of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. It won the praise of the dictator when it when it purged local union leader Adnane Hajji, when he was imprisoned for heading a protest movement in 2008 against corruption, nepotism and unemployment. Since the fall of the old regime, a new generation has taken power in the union under secretary general Housine Abassi.

Visiting Paris last month, Abassi met with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to officially request that France turn over records related to the murder of UGTT founder Farhat Hached, who was slain in 1952, four years before Tunisian independence. The UGTT believes the assassination was carried out by a paramilitary organization active under the French protectorate. The union issued a statement calling for French cooperation “to definitively get to the bottom of this affair.” (Tunis Afrique Presse via AllAfrica, Jan. 10

  1. Tunisia: Salafists imprisoned in Sufi shrine attacks
    A Tunisian court last month sentenced six Islamists to five years in prison for burning the Saida Manouba shrine in Tunis in October. Two of the six defendants were tried in absentia as they are on the run, local media reported. (Reuters, June 18)