x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

A second death in Tunisia rocks the Islamists

Tunisia could take another turn for the worse if the government doesn¿t step up efforts to bring back peace and stability.

The recent assassinations of two members of the Tunisian secular opposition have raised a scathing question about the sitting government: is the democratically-elected Islamist-led government tolerating extremism? Just the mere question is intolerable, not just for the opposition, but for all Tunisians.

As The National reported yesterday, the secular opposition announced on Sunday that it has no interest in reconciliation with the ruling Ennahda party anymore and that it was considering establishment of an alternative "salvation government" with a new prime minister to challenge the Islamist-dominated government.

Despite the complexity of the Tunisian situation, it is obvious that Ennahda faces a share of blame for the murders. The assassinations occurred twice within six months, the first in February when the leftist politician Chokri Belaid was shot dead, and the second of Mohamed Brahmi as he left his home on Thursday. The government should have moved to stop the bloodshed or adequately investigate it, but little was done. Thousands of people took to the streets to protest Brahmi's death after his funeral on Saturday.

In Egypt, such violence fueled the public anger that led to the ouster of the former president, Mohammed Morsi. His government had failed to step up and stop the killings and increasing polarisation in different parts of the country. In a particularly thoughtless step, he appointed a former member of the hardline Islamist group Gamaa Islamiya as governor of Luxor in June, and supported a rally calling for jihad in solidarity with the Syrian rebels. They were grave mistakes that the Tunisian government must heed.

But will the situation escalate further in Tunisia? The secular opposition, inspired by the Egyptian protest movement Tamarrod, is already mobilising against the government, calling for mass protests after it gathered about 200,000 signatures demanding the removal of the government. The transition period has been smooth so far in Tunisia but could take another turn in the future, if the government fails to take a strong stance against extremism and boost security measures across the country and bring back peace and stability.

In this critical period of the Arab Spring, new governments must take more efforts to foster national unity and protect their citizens, regardless of their political stances. The message should be unmistakable: extremism can never be accepted or tolerated.