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Portrait of Mohamed Brahmi

By Lilia Blaise originally published on Nawaat and translated by Allison L. McManus and Samia Errazzouki from Jadaliyya.

"I entered politics as a man and I will leave it as a man." These were some of the last words Mohamed Brahmi stated to one of his friends most loyal to the People’s Movement, several days before his death on 25 July 2013 in Tunis. Mohamed Brahmi was one who believed in true political engagement, the kind that requires a lifetime investment on the ground.

A close friend of Brahmi said:

With Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, Tunisia has lost men who spoke differently, who spoke the language of the people. In comparison with Chokri Belaid, who was intelligent and held a vision, Brahmi was a dynamic person, who carried out tasks because he knew where he was going. They could have been politically complementary to one another.

Despite their dissimilar personalities and social backgrounds, the similarities between the two men are striking--they have the same straightforward manner of speaking, the same political rectitude, and even the same conditions surrounding their assassination. The identical pattern of deaths for both Belaid and Brahmi seems to demonstrate that not only are men being targeted through political violence, but so are ideas. A leftist activist since the very beginning, Mohamed Brahmi was first and foremost a man of principles, according to his close friends.  He never wavered at the risk of placing himself in danger.

With his bluntness, Mohamed Brahmi was also imposing through his size and demeanor, with a slight frown underneath his small glasses. Discreetly, he knew how to listen at the Assembly, where he represented the Movement of the People since 23 October 2011. Even his close friends admit: Mohamed Brahmi was not as well known as Hamma Hammami or Béji Caïd Essebsi in the media. Yet, he represented an "ideal target" due to his political views. A convinced Nasserist, Mohamed Brahmi was also a pious man, a practicing Muslim, and he rejected political Islam to the point that he resigned from his own party, accusing them of being "infiltrated by Ennahda."

The Assassination of a Militant

All of his close friends describe Mohamed Brahmi in three words: straightforward, pious, and honest. Born on 15 May 1955 in Sidi Bouzid, in the area of Hachena, Mohamed Brahmi began his involvement in activism at a young age. Under Bourguiba, Brahmi was engaged in the 1977 national progressive current, for which the president did not care. At the time, Brahmi and his friends cultivated the idea of a great Arab nation: the current of Nasserist Arab nationalism that Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser inspired during the 1960s. But it was the thinker, Ismat Seif Al-Dawla that inspired the group of the Progressive Arab Students Union to join Mohamed Brahmi.

According to law professor Amor Bobakri, in an essay on Arab nationalism, the current mainly seduced activists from southern Tunisia and the socioeconomically disenfranchised. Parallel to his political engagement, which remained confined to the university due to the ban on political action, Mohamed Brahmi completed his studies in bookkeeping and jurisdiction with a diploma from the Institut supérieur de gestion in 1982.

After several years in his field, he worked as a manager at the Land Housing Agency starting in 2004. "At the time, we offered him land and a house at Ennasr thanks to his work, but he preferred to move to Ghazella in Ariana. It is less chic but fit him nonetheless," explained one of his friends.

Under Ben Ali, Mohamed Brahmi gained political prominence as a member of the Progressive Arab Students Union. In 2005, he created the Nasserist Unionist Movement and worked on underground movements, a party that was banned under Ban Ali. One of his protégées in the heart of the Tunisian Students' General Union (UGET), Rim Haroussi, also current member of the Doustourna Movement, described him as a humble and generous man: "In 2009, while I did not have the means to pay for the student dorms, he housed me at his family's home for more than a year."

In 2008, Brahmi was heavily involved in the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) during the Redeyef revolts. Virtually unknown to the general public, people discovered him with the revolution, during which Mohamed Brahmi participated in the first revolts in Sidi Bouzid. At his side was Khaled Aoueini, one of the leading lawyers of the revolt movement in Sidi Bouzid.

Mohamed Brahmi created the committee of support for the Sidi Bouzid population. At the time, he stood alongside Radhia Nasraoui, who was touched by this memory: "I discovered to what extent he fought, especially when it was time mobilize. He dropped everything to support the Sidi Bouzid population. He was both sincere and a great activist."

After the revolution, he took part in the National Constituent Assembly elections. His participation was a last minute arrangement, because the first person chosen withdrew, according to the members of his party. As a result, he found himself elected in the Sidi Bouzid electoral district with a firm conviction to defend the social causes of the revolution.

The Bleakness of the Assembly

"He no longer felt that he was doing anything serious, he told me. ‘I am like a false witness. I cannot continue’," said Radhia Nasraoui. Mohamed Brahmi said similar things to his wife, Mbarka Brahmi, when he returned home every evening after an assembly debate. Yet, he believed in the constituency even in its infancy.

Not as mediatized as other elected officials, he did not hesitate to take a leading role in speaking about the problems regarding agriculture and the flawed redistribution of land. He also criticized the government. At times extreme, Mohamed Brahmi took part in a hunger strike for five days in the middle of the National Constituent Assembly with another deputy, Ahmed Khaskhoussi, in October 2012. They wanted to denunciate the government's disinterest in the face of social issues in marginalized regions, namely Sidi Bouzid and Gafsa.

At the time, a journalist reacted to the news of the hunger strike: "There are the elected representatives of the people and there are the elected representatives of the sultans. The concerns for the elected officials of the sultan are to protect those in positions of power. Those elected by the people are elected to fight for the rights of citizens."

Member of the Massar Party, Nadia Châbanne, was accustomed to spending hours with them after assembly sessions: “What struck me about him was his pacifism and his ability to mediate. We could discuss everything with him.”

He did not hesitate to be outspoken toward Prime Minister Ali Larayedh regarding the conditions of security: “I do not understand how Larayedh talks about progress on all fronts. Maybe there were some, but it is relative to what happened in Châmbi,” he said on Nessma TV.

Mohamed Brahmi also held onto the principles of his party: he defended the inclusion of the criminalization of Zionism in the constitution. He even said in a speech that the President of the Constituent Assembly, Mustapha Ben Jaafar, pressured him to remove this section from the constitution. But despite his nationalism, he was transparent with his colleagues: “I remember he was one of the first to support me when I spoke French at the meeting, despite the fact that he is a staunch nationalist. He told me that I belonged here as any other," recalls Karima Souid, member of the Massar Party.

The Conditions of His Death

The last night before his death, he attended a meeting with members of his political movement, discussing the recent splits within the party. Zouhair El Hamdi remained at his side until three in the morning. He was the last person that Mohamed Brahmi called before his death. "I did not hear the phone ring. When I saw his missed call, I called him back three times. I was not concerned, I knew we were going to see each other later on." Fifteen minutes later, he discovered the news.

"Since then, I have constantly asked myself: What did he want to tell me? Was it to warn me that he knew something was going to happen or was it just to talk to me?" Zouheir El Hamdi's eyes were foggy with tears. He was one of Mohamed Brahmi's best friends.

In the house in the Ghazella area of Ariana, a middle-class neighborhood, the widow of Mohamed Brahmi, Mbarka, keeps busy, surrounded by a number of women who have come to support her in the customary forty days of mourning. With an aura of fatigue, she continues to grant interviews. Late in the morning, she even organized a press conference in her home, accompanied by Hamma Hammami and Radhia Nasraoui. Between organizing the funeral services of her husband and attending to the media, she has not had a minute to herself. Nevertheless, again and again she recounts her version of the facts:

"The moment we heard the gunshots, I left the house and saw my husband in a pool of blood. There was one person on a motorcycle. Another, on foot, got on behind him. They took flight while I was trying to tend to my husband." The body of Mohamed Brahmi was riddled with bullets.

The murderers had to wait for the man, who had decided not to go to the Assembly that morning for the special session dedicated to Republic Day:

"I am not ready to attend the circus today," he told his wife. She recounts as she lifted herself. These were the hard, but typical, words of a deputy who was not afraid to speak his mind.

Disagreement with the Islamists and Nida Tounes and the Rally of the Popular Front

According to those close to Brahmi in the People's Movement Party, if the party was the sworn enemy of Ennahda, this was not always the case. According to historian Amor Boubakri, after the revolution,, certain Nasserists could have made an electoral alliance with Ennahda, given their shared defense of an Arab-Muslim identity.

In the assembly, Mohamed Brahmi attempted to listen to the Ennahda deputies. One elected Nahdaoui [a member of the Ennahda party,] described him as a man who died a "martryr," someone that she appreciated. According to the members of the People's Movement Party, Mohamed Brahmi even had a relationship with Rachid Ghannouchi, but the principal disagreement between them was over the question of the United States.

"Since the revolution, we wanted to distance ourselves from the United States, but Rachid Ghannouchi never wanted to accept this. This was the prerequisite to be able to enter discussions with him," confirmed one of the party members.

Already divided internally between the People's Movement and the Progressive Unionist People's Movement, the two parties eventually regrouped for the elections, but with a fragile base. Brahmi was a fervent opponent of an alliance with Ennahda. In July of 2013, the final and most preferable solution was to ally with the Popular Front, a party on the far left.

At the time, Mohamed Brahmi declared that this decision to make an alliance was made one month after the death of Chokri Belaid. Mohamed Brahmi had enemies, especially because of his frank manner of speaking, but also because of the fusion of his party with the Popular Front.

On 7 July 2013, Mohamed Brahmi resigned his membership and created the Popular Current. On the waves of Radio Mosaic FM he accused his own party - the People's Movement Party - of being "infiltrated by Ennahda." He called for the dissolution of the assembly or, at least, for the party to be saved from a takeover by the Islamist party. In an interview given to the newspaper Le Temps on 21 July 2013, Mohamed Brahmi shared his view of Ennahda and the menace that it could represent to the alliance between the Popular Front and the People's Movement:

"Ennahda is fiercely contrary to the Popular Front. The contradictions intensified when it was established that the People's Movement was to be registered there politically as well as on an activist level. Because it was easy for Ennahda to accuse the Front members of disloyalty and atheism, but it was impossible to do this with our party. Because the party supporters know well that we practice our religious rites more than they. Moreover, the nationalist Nasserist discourse is close to the people's sentiment: this is why they feel the apprehension vis-à-vis this coalition between the Marxist left and the nationalist left in the ranks of one single front under the title of a social emancipatory left, in large measure, in the highest ideological charge, well anchored in the worries and the problems of the citizen and well tied to his daily preoccupations, and that expresses, sincerely, his expectations. [...] Thus, this reconciliation between the two parties enormously aggravates Ennahda, and certain ministers have, expressly, threatened to quell the People's Movement if it does not leave the Popular Front. [...] Ennahda is persuaded that its future will be assured if it ever manages to dismantle this tough and embarrassing rival."

Mohamed Brahmi spares nothing in this interview against the members of the Nidaa Tounes party, who he accused of being recycled Rcédistes, but especially of being ideal adversaries for Ennahda:

"Finally, concerning the third pseudo-condition touching on the position with regard to Nidaa Tounes, the party that was founded by recycling the Rcédistes, it is necessary to know that Ennahda participated in the making of this party. While it created its partners before the 23 October and put a Troika in place, it was actually in the process of fabricating its adversaries in order to defeat them with ease under the titles of their residuals, of counter-revolutionary forces, of symbols of the deposed regime and the deep state, and appearing as if the party carried the banner of revolution and change...As it could not proceed in the same way with the [Popular] Front in amplifying its image, because it was incapable of outbidding the constituents in the plan of activism, political and radical. Such a maneuver on its part would be its first loss in the political operation. Thus, neither we nor the Popular Front have ever dealt with the Rcédistes, and we never will."

Against Ennahda, against the Rcédistes, and especially against all alliance with Nidaa Tounes, Mohamed Brahmi, several days before his death, had made numerous political enemies.

The Motives of His Assassination

"Two weeks before his death, Mohamed Brahmi declared during a speech in Sfax that he no longer believed in the present system and that the solution was outside of this system. He was likewise going to resign from the ANC. Thus he represented a troublesome element, especially after his declarations about the infiltration of the Ennahda party," recounts a relative. "Indeed, after the death of Chokri Belaid, we were frightened for him and Tahar Ben Hassine. But Mohamed Brahmi was sure of himself; he was the master of his own destiny."

Today, despite the announcement from the Minister of the Interior of a suspect in the case of the death of Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, numerous questions remain about the murders of these men.

The killing of Mohamed Brahmi also targeted a symbol, that of the town that sparked the revolution, Sidi Bouzid, but also the symbol of the defense of the goals of the revolution. The assassinations of Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi symbolize the end of a certain innocence in Tunisian politics, where now those who defend social and revolutionary ideals must be eliminated. In the political plan, Mohamed Brahmi was never hesitant to say what he thought of Ennahda as well as Nidaa Tounes, giving several motivations for a political assassination.

Despite the death of her father, his daughter Balkhis, nineteen years old, is not discouraged. She intends to follow the "fight of her father to the end," like her mother, who at the funeral of her husband called to "stop clapping" and "go turn back these sewer rats." Seeing the children and sisters of Mohamed Brahmi, the proverb according to which "one can kill a man but not his ideas" fits perfectly with the image of his family, as convicted as their father was over their political ideals.

"It remains to be seen if we know not to make the same mistake as when Chokri Belaid died, that is to say, to rebel without any political vision for the future," explained Zouhair El Hamdi. 

By Lilia Blaise originally published on Nawaat and translated by Allison L. McManus and Samia Errazzouki from Jadaliyya.

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