Tunisia must be wary of going down the same route as Egypt | Rachel Shabi

The assassination of Mohamed Brahmi has provoked angry demonstrations that risk derailing the country’s democratic process

There is no good time for a political assassination, but yesterday’s killing in Tunisia is especially troubling. Just as the region is reeling from the turmoil in Egypt following a popular coup to remove a democratically elected Islamist president two weeks ago, Tunisia is now facing its own crisis after the killing of secular opposition leader, Mohamed Brahmi. It comes just six months after another outspoken opposition figure, Chokri Belaid, was killed in chillingly similar circumstances: both men gunned down outside their own homes in Tunis by attackers on motorbikes.

Both were part of the leftist Popular Front and critical of the Islamist Ennahda party, which leads Tunisia’s three-party coalition government. Both deaths have left Tunisians in shock. And, just like the assassination of Belaid in February, the killing of Brahmi has prompted angry accusations and violent demonstrations directed at the Ennahda party, which risk derailing the country’s democratic process.

Tunisia isn’t Egypt, of course, but there are similar fault lines and divisions over the kind of identity – liberal, pluralist, Islamic – that the country should forge in its post-revolutionary period. There is growing frustration at a stalled economy and the failure of the government to heed the cries for “Work! Freedom! Dignity!”, the rallying demands of the revolution that overthrew dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. Tunisia’s opposition and human rights groups have criticised a long-awaited draft constitution that a committee has just drawn up – over issues such as curtailing presidential powers and guaranteeing basic freedoms.

Both assassinations – Belaid’s killers have yet to be reprimanded – have sparked fury at Ennahda over a failure to take escalating political violence seriously. A report from Human Rights Watch earlier this year cited a sharp recurrence of attacks against artists, journalists and politicians, apparently “motivated by a religious agenda”.

And the trouble is, Ennahda is not deemed to be doing anything to address that, prompting the suspicion that the party is fine with the violent, ultra-religious conservatism that has manifested on Tunisia’s streets.

Meanwhile, there is a concern about spillover from the wider region. Egypt’s overthrow of Mohamed Morsi on 3 July has galvanised the opposition in Tunisia: a tamarod (“rebellion”) group, modelled on the Egyptian organisation that drew massive anti-Morsi crowds onto the streets just weeks ago, has now coalesced in Tunisia around a call for parliament to be dissolved. After the murder of Brahmi, Tunisia’s Tamarod movement issued a statement calling for protesters to “occupy the streets until the fall of the government” adding: “We cannot get somewhere with empty words. The best solution is taking the streets over against the authorities who do not know the meaning of protecting citizens.”

Still, it’s hard to imagine that mass Tunisian support for a sudden derailment of its democratic process, Egypt-style, might gain momentum – especially since Tunisia’s transition has proceeded much further, and down a better road. Ennahda has condemned the murder of Mohamed Brahmi, which it says is aimed at “halting Tunisia’s democratic process and killing the only successful model in the region”.

But the party needs to do much more, on a practical level, to make Tunisians believe it is serious about eliminating political violence and building a politics of consensus. Meanwhile sections of the opposition might ponder the possible consequences of the overthrow-happy democracy of the street. Tunisia’s revolution two years ago was cited as inspiration for the subsequent uprising in Egypt. But looking at the unresolved situation in that country, the last thing Tunisia needs now is for the inspiration to start flowing in reverse.

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