Tens of thousands of Tunisians took to the streets on Friday for the funeral of Chokri Belaid, the secualr opposition leader whose assassination has plunged the poster child nation of the Arab Spring into political turmoil.
Many of the estimated 50,000 people chanted anti-government and anti-islamist slogans. Violent clashes erupted in two locations, when protesters began throwing stones and setting light to vehicles. Police responded by firing tear gas on the crowds. The first clash took place close to the cemetery, while a second similar incident took place near to the Interior Ministry – which is often the focus of anti-government protests in Tunisia’s capital Tunis.
Clashes have also been reported at an anti-government protest in the southern town of Gafsa. Protesters hurled stones and petrol bombs at police lines, and again the police responded with tear gas.
Tunisia, the birth place of the ‘Arab Spring’ movement, is now ruled by a government led by a moderate-Islamist party. Political tensions have been on the rise for months, driven by the failure of the government to make good on promises to create a more inclusive ruling coalition and public frustrations at the lack of social and economic progress since the uprising against President Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali over two years ago.
Belaid’s assassination brought has brought tensions to a head, and the people onto the streets.
In many ways the situation in Tunisia mirrors the situation in Egypt. Both countries saw a popular uprising oust a dictator, followed by elections which put Islamist politicians into power. In both countries the revolutionary secular youth who were at the forefront of the revolution feel betrayed by their elected representatives, feel that a largely liberal, democratic revolution has been hijacked and betrayed by conservative Islamist politicians, and are now calling for a new revolution. In short, the youth who instigated the Arab Spring are now waking up to the Islamist Autumn which has replaced it.