Hundreds of thousands of people marched at the funeral of Chokri Belaid, a leading opposition politician in Tunisia, on Friday of last week.
Towns across the country shut down as people struck and filled the streets.
Belaid, a left leaning opposition leader, was very critical of the Islamist ruling party Ennahda. He was shot dead outside his home on Wednesday of last week.
The day before he had gone on television and warned of the rising use of assassinations in Tunisia.
Many argue now that the current government should resign as it is unable to avoid further political violence.
But the response of so many people to his death should show the ruling parties that this will not be tolerated.
Huge numbers of men and women, old and young came to say goodbye to him at his funeral. They showed solidarity with their friends and expressed their anger with Ennahda.
Police fired tear gas, but it wasn’t possible for them to move the crowds because of the numbers.
People were calm and stood together, sharing whatever they had to help people suffering from the gas.
The offices of Ennadah were set alight and clashes took place with reactionary forces.
The strike shut down the whole country—schools,
airports, private companies and public sector offices were closed. Even small shops and cafes closed.
Strikes began on Thursday in the mining region that rose up in 2008 and has a history of militant workers’ struggles.
Courts and schools began closing before the UGTT union called the one-day general strike for Friday.
This was the first 100 percent political strike since the fall of dictator Ben Ali two years ago. And they are the biggest demonstrations we have seen for months.
But at the moment there are no signs that the strikes will continue.
Even people on the left are not convinced that long strikes are needed to break the regime.
The stakes are high.
Several opposition figures, as well as the family of the martyr, have received death threats since the demonstration.
The ruling coalition is in a state of crisis.
The prime minister
suggested replacing the cabinet with unelected technocrats. But that plan has been rejected despite support from some of the opposition.
Just a few thousand supporters came onto the streets for Ennahda to defend the legitimacy of the current government last Saturday.
The party has now called a protest for next Friday and is waging a propaganda war against the protesters.
But the role of workers remains crucial. Their strikes can radically shift the situation and unite people around popular demands.
Chokri Belaid led the Patriotic Democrats, one of the main parties in Tunisia’s Popular Front.
This the most prominent alliance of left leaning parties.
It also includes nationalist parties.
Conflict in Tunisia is in danger of pushing a clash along the lines of Islamists against secular or moderate Muslims.
But there is a clear division inside the Islamist party Ennahda.
One section wants to stay in power and defend their vision of an Islamic state.
They will not give up the fight easily.
Another section of Ennahda is looking for solutions to the crisis that can better serve the interests of Tunisian capitalism, and that the opposition could accept.
Jaouhar Tonsy is Tunisian and currently living in London
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