In 2011, Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia was the birthplace of the Arab Spring that swept through the Middle East and led to the fall of many notorious dictators. Since Thursday 25 July this area has again become the centre of demonstrations with attacks on Ennahda’s headquarters.
Mohamed Brahmi, a leftist critic of Ennahda and strong nationalist, was shot dead outside his house earlier this week. Brahmi was not the first politician to be murdered this year. In February, Chokri Belaid, a prominent secular figure, was killed, sparking mass protests and forcing the then-Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali to resign. Both murders are thought to have been carried out by the same people and both have sparked mass protests and political reshuffles within the country. On Friday 26, a national day of mourning for Mr Brahmi, the UGTT called for a two-hour strike.
Ennahda has expressed in a statement its ‘sadness and shock’ at the ‘cowardly and despicable crime’ rejecting any accusations, with authorities claiming that no one party can be linked to the shootings who they believe were committed by a gang of men lead by Salafist Boubacar Hakim. Despite this Mr Brahmi’s family are still largely blaming Ennahda.
Since the Arab Spring, roughly two and a half years ago, the division between Islamists and secular opponents has widened, especially after the overthrow of long-term ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011. This has lead to a period that many people call the ‘Islamist Winter’. Much of the unrest has been linked to a rising extremist Islamist movement and faltering economy. On the same note, according to correspondents, many young Tunisians accuse the intolerant Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, of hijacking their quest for a secular democracy and encouraging strong violence.
Political analysts have recently started questioning the Arab Spring, claiming that it failed and has actually given momentum to the Islamist Winter. Not a single country which experienced the Arab Spring can claim to have achieved or even been on course to becoming a stable, peaceful democracy. Tunisia, Libya and Yemen – countries that were more hopeful – have been struggling, whilst Egypt is experiencing chaos and Syria is drowned by the blood of civil war. On the one hand, there are some who argue that the Middle East was not ready for the transition because they lack democratic institutions, stating that people’s power will only result in anarchy or inflame the re-imposition of dictatorship.
On the other, people argue that Islam cannot coexist with democracy as it is such a cohesive force. Some even claim that the Middle East would have been better off if the Arab Spring had never happened, despite reports showing that the Arabs do not want to turn their clock back.