Tunisian members of parliament rejected Islam as the main source of law for the country on Dec. 4 as they voted to establish a new constitution. The Islamist-led party and secular parties overcame intense debate about Islam's role in the country before beginning to draft the new constitution. The National Constituent Assembly adopted only 12 of the proposed 146 articles despite a Jan. 14 deadline for the completion of the new constitution. The first clause of the constitution says Tunisia is "a free country, independent, with sovereignty; Islam is its religion, Arabic its language and the republic its regime." However, Article 6 makes the state the "guardian of religion," "protector of the sacred" and guarantor of "freedom of conscience." The Tunisian government employed heavy security in the capital Tunis during the parliament assembly to deter attacks from radical Islamists opposed to the adoption of the new constitution in place of Islam law.
More than 40,000 marched yon Tunisia's National Constituent Assembly Aug. 6 to demand the resignation of the government, with progress towards a new constitution stalled. The elected body has suspended its work until the Islamist-led administration and secular opposition open negotiations over the stalemate sparked by last month's slaying of leading left-opposition figure Mohamed Brahmi. (BBC News, Aug. 6; AFP, Aug. 7) Responding to an obvious question from Al Jazeera, Walid Bennani, vice president of the ruling Ennahda party, said: "There's no coup d'etat in Tunisia. There’s an opposition party that wants to dissolve the government. The opposition...wants to repeat the Egyptian scenario. That can't happen." (Al Jazeera, Aug. 8)
A nationwide strike has been declared in Tunisia after protests over the killing of opposition leader Mohamed Brahmi July 25. The nation's UGTT trade union federation called the stoppage to protest "terrorism, violence and murders" by the Islamist government of the Ennahda party. Police used tear gas to disperse protesters in several towns, after Brahmi was shot dead outside his home in Tunis. "This criminal gang has killed the free voice of Brahmi," his widow, Mbarka Brahmi, told Reuters. His sister Souhiba Brahm was even more forthright: "Ennahda killed my brother," she said. Ennahda has condemned the killing. Brahmi, a lawmaker and leader of the leftist Popular Movement, is the second opposition leader killed this year; the February assassination of Chokri Belaid also sparked a political crisis. The killing of Brahmi came on Republic Day, marking the 56th anniversary of Tunisia's independence. (Middle East Online, July 27; BBC News, July 26; Reuters, July 25)
What are we to make of this? The Atlantic boasts photos of an April 4 international protest called by Ukrainian feminist group Femen in support of young Tunisian activist Amina Tyler, who received death threats after posting topless pictures of herself online in defiance of the growing hegemony of political Islam in her country. Femen's followers waged a "topless jihad," baring their breasts in cities across Europe—including in front of the Great Mosque in Paris. The Kiev protest was also in front of a mosque. Some of the targets were more appropriate, such as the Tunisian consulate in Milan and the embassy in Stockholm. The women scrawled slogans on their bared torsos, like "FREE AMINA." Somewhat disturbingly, some also appropriated the Islamic crescent in a sexualized way, using it to accentuate their breasts. This irreverent image actually appears on the logo of the Femen wesbite, which also touts its own movement as one of "Titslamism."
As tens of thousands of activists from around the world converge on Tunisia for the World Social Forum, the annual anti-globalization confab, the country is facing a pending peckage of austerity measures as the condition of a $1.78 billion emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund—two years after economic misery sparked an uprising in the country that unleashed the Arab Revolutions. "We need to have economic reforms that work for the people, not for the global economy," Mabrouka Mbarek, a member of Tunisia's constituent assembly, told Al Jazeera. "It seems they have forgotten our history." (Al Jazeera, March 26)
More than 3,000 Tunisians, led by the father of assassinated opposition figure Chokri Belaid, marched through the capital Feb. 23 in a protest against the government's "slow" investigation into the slaying. The case has become a focal point for widespread grievances against the ruling Islamist party and the country's economic state. (AP, Feb. 23) Tunisian authorities say they have arrested an unspecified number of suspects in the killing, but Belaid's family says members of the ruling Ennahda party were behind the assassination, and are being protected. (Middle East Online, Feb. 21)
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)
Tunisia's Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali announced that he will dissolve the Islamist-led administration and form a new "technocrat government" as protests rocked the country Feb. 6 following the slaying of opposition leader Chokri Belaid. The headquarters of the Ennahda party, which rules in a fractious coalition with secularists, was set ablaze as Belaid's body was taken by ambulance through Tunis from the hospital where he died. Police fired tear-gas on some 20,000 protesters at the Interior Ministry, who chanted for the fall of the government. Despite calls for calm from the administration, thousands also took to the streets in Mahdia, Sousse, Monastir and Sidi Bouzid—the cradle of the revolution, where police fired tear-gas and warning shots as protesters set cars and a police station on fire.