Student activist in the 1980s, civil rights advocate since the 1990s and prominent anti-Ben Ali figure, Belaid became a household name from January 2011, peering through the television screens almost daily, with his trade mark thick moustache, fluent speech and forceful opinions. He was smeared by Imams in mosques as being an atheist (‘kafir’); accused of being an informant for former president Ben Ali; blamed for instigating strikes and demonstrations by the government; and satirised in comedies and on social media.
And like in life, his tragic death also had poetic overtones. His assassination was foretold in more than the many threats he received, publicly and in private, and as a poet, he is best remembered for a poem dedicated to Husain Muruwa, the Lebanese intellectual assassinated by Islamists in the late 1990s.
Belaïd had reportedly received multiple death threats in the days prior to his death. The night before he was killed, Belaid said; “All those who oppose Ennahda become the targets of violence. Earlier that week, Belaïd said that the committees established out of the revolution were a “tool” used by the Islamists.
Belaid’s funeral service was held in Tunis on 8 February. It was attended by at least a million people amid clashes between police and protesters[ His body was buried at Jallaz cemetery
Behind Belaid’s personal and activist story lies the complex and compelling story of the Tunisian Left as a whole. Responses to his death may well mark the end of the line for Islamist politics as we know it in Tunisia. It may also mark the rise of a unified opposition, which now realises that its fight is not only, or no longer, for freedom of expression and association, but an existential one – a matter of survival.