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Middle East and Africa

You cannot assassinate the revolution

Interview with Majed Hadj Ali, edited by Maria Laura Conte

‘We cannot be too surprised if we have reached this point’. Majed Hadj Ali, lawyer of the central committee of the Republican Party, from his office looking out onto Avenue Bourguiba, reads the news of the assassination of Chokri Belaid, representative of the opposition of the Tunisian secular left, with the anger and sadness that the whole country is experiencing, but also with great disenchantment. His party is part of a sort of opposition ‘troika’, together with Nidaa Tunis and Al Massar which was officially started just a few weeks ago and which aims at re-establishing the fragmentation of the secular parties to earn a better ranking in the next elections, detrimental to the parties now in power.



While the University of Manouba has suspended lectures following the news of the assassination and strikes are being called all over the country at various levels, Majed Hadj Ali attempts to describe the present situation: ‘It is true, the entire population is under shock, as such an act – the physical and cold-blooded elimination of a politician in the light of day – has sparked off the reaction of the people who have poured into Avenue Bourguiba and the squares all over the country to say no to the violence of which this government is held ultimately responsible. But the murder of Belaid is the outcome of the growing violence that has been taking place in Tunisia for months.



Thousands of people all over the country take part in the militias of the ‘National League for the Protection of the Revolution’, spreading terror in every town and village. It is a well organised association, with representatives in various places. Who do they work for? It is not difficult to imagine. It suffices to consider that they have never attacked any of the representatives or offices of the government parties. It is clear what side they are on, if not even to who they answer to. While the majority parties openly deny this connection and do nothing to stop them, these militias are getting stronger in this ambiguous situation’.



What can be expected now?



‘Last July Hamadi Jebali, President of the Council of Ministers, had promised a government reshuffle but nothing has been done despite the repeated promises and appeals. Until yesterday. Jebali announced, following the assassination, that this government will be dissolved to leave its place to a technical and not a political government. We shall see. I think, in fact, that this answer has come too late. It is months that my party and other independent opinions have been asking for decisive action by the government to stop the rife violence on the political scene. Here is just one example: a short time ago a number of representatives of the League went into the Constituent Assembly during the work and insulted the deputies; others attacked the parties who they accuse of being linked to the old regime; others burst into our last congress; these militias are blamed for the death of Lotfi Nakadh, a local executive of the Nidaa Tunis Party, after being beaten up last October, but which instead was explained as a heart attack by the Interior Minister’s spokesman; the murder attempts of two Republican Party executives followed, Saïd Aïdi, former labour minister and Chedly Fareh.



And then there are the repeated attacks against the offices of the UGTT trade union, a central institution in the history of Tunisia, recognised by everyone as the icon of Tunisian independence. We have asked the government to dissolve these militias, which are against the law, but nothing has been done. The point is that we are not facing spontaneous violence, like with well organised attacks, that for months has been organised in specific attacks’.



Could the promised technical government manage to get Tunisia out of this political-institutional impasse and violence?



‘They have promised us a technical government, it is true, but the President of the Council of Ministers has not yet said who will be in it, how the ministers will be chosen nor when it will become operational. Nonetheless, it appears that Jebali will keep his place. As a jurist I cannot but stress all the contradictions of this situation. While awaiting clarifications and definite answers, all the parties of the ‘democratic family’ have decided to suspend their participation of the their deputies in the work of the Constituent Assembly. We cannot legitimate this way of working for the new Tunisia with our presence. We are not defining the contents of a simple decree, we are writing a constitution that must have the consensus of all the people, it must be enforced for at least the next fifty years and cannot be made by relying heavily on the majority. There will probably be general strike, because we want an independent technical government, nothing else’.



Do you see the risk of a return to the past for Tunisia?



‘No. If there’s one thing that is certain it is that we cannot go backwards. There is a wide margin of freedom for the press and there is no shortage of brave journalists who openly report on what is happening. It is not possible to go back, the people would no longer accept it, and nor would the elites. You cannot subdue a revolution. The Tunisian people wanted a moderate modern Islam and believed the electoral promises of an-Nahda, while the democratic front was too fragmented and in fact allowed the Islamists to win. Today the Tunisians are realising that unemployment continues to grow, the cost of living is rising, the poor regions are increasingly poor, and that not only has there been no answer to the economic emergency, but not even a hint of an answer has been seen’.



How are the events in Egypt seen from Tunis?



‘We are not Egypt; the traditions, the people, the transition, it is all different. The elections will be held but not in these conditions. If the Constituent acts against the good of all the people, it will be stopped’.