Tunisia: Anti-Islamist MP Shot and Killed on Republic Day

07/25/2013 05:40 pm ET | Updated Sep 24, 2013

July 25th, on Republic Day, Tunisia is in shock. Mohamed Brahmi, a vocal anti-Islamist MP has been shot eleven times and killed in front of his home at about 12pm. Six months after the murder of leftist leader Chokri Belaïd, this is the second political assassination in post-Arab Spring Tunisia.

The connection between Belaid and Brahmi is obvious: Martyrdom is not the only thing they share. They were political allies within the Tunisian leftist movement. Both were critics of Ben Ali's dictatorial rule before the 2011 Tunisian revolution, both were strong opponents of the current Islamist-lead government.

Originally from Sidi Bouzid -- the town where Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation triggered the Arab Spring -- Mohamed Brahmi was a leftist Nasserist politician who relentlessly criticized Ennahdha's rule since it took power on October 23rd 2011. As an MP, he was member of the parliamentary committee for the martyrs of the revolution. In October 2012, he started a hunger strike to protest against the government's unwillingness to address social issues. A few days ago, he spoke against the supposedly independent board (ISIE) elected to organize the next elections.

After one and a half years of rule, the government has rarely been so fragile. Both regionally and domestically, the sociopolitical context puts Ennahdha -- the ruling party -- and its allies in a tough spot.

In Egypt, despite Mohammed Morsi's efforts to assert his legitimacy, the Tamarrod (i.e. rebellion) movement has succeeded in overthrowing the Muslim Brotherhood's government with the help of the army. Immediately, the Tunisian government condemned the events and called it a military coup while warning that nothing of the sort would be tolerated in Tunisia. President Moncef Marzouki even declared that anyone calling for the government's demise would be trialed: "We are the legitimate rulers of Tunisia, and we will remain in power."

Today's exceptional session of the National Constituent Assembly on the occasion of Republic's Day was supposed to be yet another instance of blinded optimism, self-congratulation and legitimacy assertion. The assassination of Mohamed Brahmi is a mournful reminder of an inevitable truth our current rulers have to face: Legitimacy does not come without responsibility. The government and the National Constituent Assembly are responsible for this tragedy.

The Tunisian government may not be responsible for pulling the trigger, but it is without doubt responsible for the ubiquitous climate of social division. It is also responsible for the general sense of insecurity, given that not a single measure has yet been taken: Several hours after the murder, the airport is still open, city exits are unregulated and no curfew has been declared.

But most importantly, the government is responsible for the current climate of hate that makes Tunisia a country where political assassination is not only possible but quite unexceptional: A few days ago, Sahbi Atig, Ennahdha's majority leader in parliament publicly stated that anyone trying to replicate the Egyptian scenario in Tunisia would be faced with violence.

As we are writing, hundreds of people are gathering in front of Tunisia's Ministry of Interior. Six month ago, they were blaming Ennahdha for the murder of Chokri Belaid. Today, they call for the dissolution of the National Constituent Assembly, expressing a general rejection of entire political class. Ennahdha's headquarters in the town of Meknessi have been attacked, as was Sidi Bouzid's city hall. A video of Brahmi's daughter went viral online showing her crying: "My siblings will learn to love Tunisia and hate Ennahdha. People, rebel! My father is dead!" On Twitter, even some MPs call for government resignation and parliamentary dissolution.

For better or worse, Tunisia might be following the example of Egypt and starting its own rebellion. Unless social violence and government incompetence become so banal that Tunisians fail to react to the second political assassination of its democratic transition.