Belaid was born in the town of Jebel Jelloud in Tunisia. He worked as a lawyer and was also part of the defence team of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein during his trial for crimes against humanity. He spoke out against a 2008 clampdown on miners, and was a noted political critic of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the strongman Tunisian leader in office for 25 years, whose 2011 self-exile to Saudi Arabia was the first tangible result of the Arab Spring uprisings.
Belaid was the coordinator of the far-left Democratic Patriots’ Movement, which was part of a 12-member umbrella organisation called the Popular Front. He was a strong critic of the supporters of fundamentalist Islam, sometimes refered to as Salafists, whose confrontational tactics since the change of government in 2011 have prevented some plays and music concerts from being held in Tunisian cities, as well as having been blamed for attacking the US Embassy in Tunisia in 2012.
On 6 February 2013, as Belaid was leaving his house in the neighborhood of El Menzah 6, Tunis, he was shot by unknown assailant(s) four times in the head and chest. According to France 24, Belaid died in hospital after being shot by three men in a black vehicle. Belaid had reportedly received multiple death threats in the days prior to his death. The night before he was killed, Belaid had said; “All those who oppose Ennahda become the targets of violence.” Earlier that week, Belaid said that the committees established out of the revolution were a “tool” used by the Islamists.
Following news of his death, police used tear gas to disperse thousands of people demonstrating in front of the Interior ministry in the Tunisian capital. Other protests spontaneously occurred in other major cities throughout the country, including Sidi Bouzid where tear gas was also used to disperse protesters. The interim President of Tunisia Moncef Marzouki cut short an overseas trip as a result of the protests. The Tunisian prime minister Hamadi Jebali called the killing,”a political assassination and the assassination of the Tunisian revolution.” In a televised address, Jebali announced the formation of a caretaker government composed of technocrats, which would rule the country until elections were held. The Islamist political party Ennahda issued a statement, denying any responsibility and calling the attack a “heinous crime” that targeted the “security and stability of Tunisia”. The premises of Ennahda in the central town of Mezzouna and in the north-eastern town of El Kef were torched by demonstrators and the party’s office in Gafsa was ransacked. Four opposition parties, Belaid’s own Popular Front bloc, the Call for Tunisia party, Al Massar party and Republican Party, announced that they were pulling out of the national assembly and called for a general strike.
The spokesperson of the US State Department Victoria Nuland criticised the killing and called it an “outrageous and cowardly act.” She also called for a “fair, transparent and professional investigation to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice consistent with Tunisian law and international norms”. The French president François Hollande stated that “this murder robs Tunisia of one of its most courageous and free voices”. The German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle expressed his “horror” and “sadness” while the BritishForeign Office released a statement condemning the killing, calling it “[a] cowardly and barbaric act aimed at destabilising Tunisia’s democratic transition”