All three of North Africa's "Arab Spring" countries are now in a state of crisis. While media attention, for obvious reasons, is focused mostly on the carnage in Egypt – latest reports say at least 70 pro-Morsi protesters were killed overnight – serious developments in Tunisia and Libya should not be ignored.
In Libya, several protests directed largely (but not entirely) against Islamists have been reported this morning:
Protesters blocked the road to Tripoli airport.
Large numbers of demonstrators gathered in Martyrs' Square, Tripoli.
Protesters stormed a building in Tripoli belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood's Justice and Development Party.
In Benghazi youths attacked and ransacked a Brotherhood-linked building.
Fires were started in front of the interior ministry building in Tripoli.
These disturbances follow the assassination of Abdelsalam al-Mismari, an activist in Benghazi who was shot dead yesterday as he left a mosque after Friday prayers. Two men connected with the security services – a retired air force colonel and a senior police officer – were also killed in separate attacks.
Although attacks on security forces are common, Mismari's killing is a significant development because he was an activist who played a key role in the early stages of the revolution. The BBCnotes:
"Mr Mismari, a lawyer, was one of the earliest organisers of protests that eventually led to the overthrow of dictator Col Muammar Gaddafi.
"He later became a critic of the armed groups that helped to topple Gaddafi but which have since refused to lay down their weapons.
"He has also opposed the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya."
There have been almost 50 assassinations or bombings directed against individuals in Benghazi and the eastern region, and the government seems unable to do much about them.
At a press conference on Tuesday, interior minister Mohamed Sheikh was asked why there have been no arrests.
Without actually answering the question, he replied that the killings seem to be systematic and were probably carried out by "former convicts". He said the ministry had some intelligence and information on who was behind the attacks but he was not prepared to reveal it publicly.
At another press conference a day later, prime minister Ali Zeidan conceded that the government is weak – "We never said that we can totally control the situation" – but insisted that "we are able to pass this stage".
In Tunisia, yesterday brought a general strike organised by the country's biggest union following the assassination on Thursday of Mohamed Brahmi – the second opposition politician to be killed in the space of six months. This has raised questions about whether the transitional government, a coalition headed by the Islamist Ennahda party, can survive.
Although the Ennahda party was quick to condemn Brahmi's killing, many Tunisians hold the government partly responsible. Political analyst Alaya Allani told the Associated Press:
"The assassination of Mohammed Brahmi is a failure of the government and a failure of its security policy. I think most of the political elite feel it is urgent after the assassination to dissolve the current government and replace it with a nonpartisan, competent one."
Brahmi's death seems to have added fuel to anti-Islamist sentiment in Tunisia which now has an emerging Tamarod movement modelled on that in Egypt. Brahmi, a leftist who originally came from Sidi Bouzid where the revolution began in 2010, was an outspoken critic of Ennahda. According to The National, he had undergone hunger strikes on a number of occasions because he felt he was being blocked from helping the people of his hometown. "He had accused Ennahda of building a parallel security apparatus, using everyone from taxi drivers to vegetable vendors as informants, and said that the party was dismantling the state."
After much delay, Tunisia is on the point of finalising its new constitution which will pave the way for parliamentary elections. One likely possibility is that whoever carried out the assassination was seeking to derail that process.
Yesterday, the interior minister named Brahmi's killer as Aboubaker el-Hakim and said the gun used was the one that killed Chokri Belaid, another opposition politician, in February. Considering the unusual speed with which the authorities claim to have solved the case, some are wondering if it's too neat and convenient to be true. Hakim is said to be linked to al-Qaeda and his current whereabouts are unknown.
Posted by Brian Whitaker
Saturday, 27 July 2013