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)

Tunisians protest Islamist counter-revolution

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.

Tunisia frees Benghazi attack suspect

A Tunisian court on Jan. 7 unconditionally released the only suspect held in custody over the deadly attack on the US consulate in the Libyan city of BenghaziAli Harzi, was ordered freed for lack of evidence, but must remain in the greater Tunis area pending further investigations. Harzi had been detained in Turkey and deported to Tunisia, where he had been held for months. The FBI was first granted access to Harzi for questioning in December. Shortly after the FBI interviewed Harzi for three hours, the Tunisian wing of the militant group Ansar al-Sharia released pictures of the three investigating FBI agents online. 

Tunisia: growing attacks by religious extremists

In an Oct. 15 statement, Human Rights Watch called on Tunisian authorities to investigate a series of attacks by religious extremists over the past 10 months and bring those responsible to justice. The statement noted a letter sent in July to the ministers of justice and interior, detailing six incidents in which apparent Islamists assaulted artists, intellectuals and activists. Human Rights Watch said no progress had been made in these cases, and it meanwhile received reports of another such attack against the organizers of a festival in August. "The failure of Tunisian authorities to investigate these attacks entrenches the religious extremists’ impunity and may embolden them to commit more violence," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

From Afghanistan to Tunisia: back to GWOT?

Well, exactly what we feared is happening. Protests against the stupid Islamophobic "film" spread to Afghanistan Sept. 16, with hundreds of students from Kabul University marching, blocking roads and chanting "death to America!" There was no violence, but protesters in Herat burned a US flag and pictures of Barack Obama. (AFP, Sept. 16) Meanwhile, the Taliban launched an audacious attack on a British base, Camp Bastion in Helmand province, killing two US Marines there—and astutely claimed they were doing it in retaliation for the stupid "film." "The aim of this attack was revenge against Americans for the anti-Prophet movie," Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf said. (Radio Australia, Sept. 16; VOA, Sept. 15)

Will provocateur film derail Arab Spring?

Our hopes that with this eleventh anniversary of 9-11 the world was finally moving on from the dystopian dialectic of jihad-versus-GWOT have sure been dashed over the past few days. Since the 11th itself saw twin clashes at the US embassy in Cairo and the US consulate Benghazi, violence and protests ostensibly sparked by the Islamophobic "film trailer" (for a film that likely doesn't even exist) have now spread to Yemen, Tunisia, Iraq and Iran. The US has dispatched two destroyers armed with Cruise missiles to the coast of Libya, as well as a special Marines unit called the Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team (FAST) to protect the diplomatic corps there, and an FBI team to investigate the Benghazi attack that left dead the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, two Navy SEALS and a computer technician. The affair has notoriously become a political football at home, with Romney baiting Obama for "apologizing" for American power, even as Obama wields ultra-nationalist rhetoric about how "We are the one indispensible power in the world." (Pretty out of wack, eh?) The White House even officially disavowed a perfectly sensible statement issued by the embassy in Cairo condemning the film as the work of "misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims." The capitulation came after Charles Krauthammer baited on Fox News: "That's a hostage statement. That's a mob of al-Qaeda sympathizers in Egypt, forcing the United States into making a statement essentially of apology, on 9-11 of all days, for something of which we are not responsible." This despite the fact (although its is unclear that Krauthammer knew it) that the statement was issued before the embassy was mobbed. Oh well, so much for moving on. (Al Jazeera, WP, CNN, Sept. 13; CBS, ABC Political PunchPolitiFact, Sept. 12)

General strike shuts birthplace of Tunisian uprising

A general strike was held Aug. 14 in Tunisia's Sidi Bouzid region to demand the release of detainees and resignation of the governor, the regional head of the National Guard, and the public prosecutor. The strike, called by the UGTT trade union federation, was widely observed, with all public and private businesses shut except the electric company. The detainees had been arrested in protests over the past weeks demanding development of the marginalized region, where water and power cuts are common. Sidi Bouzid is considered the birthplace of the Arab Spring; last year's Tunisian uprising was sparked when a street vendor in the city torched himself in December 2010 in protest over his precarious livelihood. (Tunis Afrique Presse via AllAfrica, AFP, Aug. 14)

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