General strike in Tunisia today

Shops barricaded in Tunis in recognition of the strike

There is a general strike and mass demonstrations in Tunisia today, in protest at the murder of a secular left-wing opposition leader. The strike was called by the The General Union of Tunisian Workers, the UGTT.

Opposition leader Chokri Belaid was shot dead outside his home this Wednesday. Belaid, a human rights lawyer, was a left-wing critic of the ruling Islamist party, Ennahda. Although no one has claimed responsibility for the murder, many ordinary Tunisians blame the Islamists.

Mr Belaid was buried in Tunis today as tens of thousands of people came out to show their respects and protest his assassination. There have been reports of clashes between demonstrators and the police.

Tunisia was the first country to experience the revolutionary wave of the Arab Spring. The self-immolation of vegetable seller Mohamed Bouazizi was a catalyst for this movement, sparking protests initially in Tunisia and then across the Arab world at corrupt and authoritarian leaders. The uprising in Tunisia – strongly supported by rank and file union activists – lead rapidly to the fall of the Ben Ali regime and the election of the Islamist Ennahda government in January 2011.

Despite tensions between secular leftists and Islamists, the transition in Tunisia has been considered stable and peaceful, and has generally lacked the unrest seen in Egypt. However, the murder of Belaid and the resulting protests challenge that view as tensions are clearly escalating. In many ways the protests in Tunisia mirror those in Egypt, where people are rising up against the increasingly authoritarian rule of Muslim Brotherhood President Morsi.

The UGTT is a powerful and political union federation, and a formidable force in Tunisian politics. Unlike the official Egyptian union federation, it managed to maintain independence from the state, and grew into a powerful political opposition movement, both before and after the transition to democracy. It has previously come under attack from government supporters.

We wish our comrades in the Maghreb all the best in these difficult times: may you succeed in building a better country.

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