Tara Todras-Whitehill for The New York Times
In bracing scenes that recalled the 2011 revolution against Tunisia’s autocratic leader — and in numbers not seen since — mourners marched for miles through a city quieted by the largest labor strike in decades, which was called in Mr. Belaid’s honor. Clashes outside the cemetery interrupted the proceedings for a time, sending tear gas and black smoke from a torched car wafting among the mourners. But the funeral remained overwhelmingly peaceful.
Mr. Belaid, a lawyer, a human-rights activist and the leader of a leftist opposition coalition, was killed by gunmen on Wednesday as he sat in his car. His fierce criticisms of Tunisia’s largest Islamist group, Ennahda — along with death threats he received from religious hard-liners known as Salafis — led his supporters and relatives to blame Islamists for his death. No one has been arrested in the killing.
Many people said that the size of the crowd, for a politician who even supporters said had a limited following, showed that anger at the Islamists was reaching deeper into Tunisian society. The funeral also provided a measure of the growing polarization between the country’s secular and religious forces, threatening Tunisia’s attempts to accommodate both camps in its coalition government.
“It has become a fight over identity,” said Arraf Dheif, a high school teacher, who said he came to the march out of a sense of national duty. He said he saw the killing of Mr. Belaid as a threat to Tunisia’s still incomplete revolution and as an insult to the demands of protesters for freedom and democracy.
“Every coward and every extremist should know that Tunisia is not just Chokri Belaid,” he said.
That the killers remained unidentified fed the sense of dread here, despite promises by the government to investigate the murder. Tunisians had prided themselves on largely avoiding the political violence that has troubled transitions in neighboring countries like Libya, where the government has been unable to reign in militias that fought Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, or interrupt a cycle of political assassinations in the city of Benghazi.
Violence has also surged in Egypt in recent weeks, leading to more than 50 deaths. On Friday, after days of calm, antigovernment protesters marched in several cities, clashing with the riot police in the Nile Delta town of Tanta and marching on the presidential palace in Cairo.
To quiet the outrage after Mr. Belaid’s killing, Tunisia’s prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, announced that the Islamist-led government would be replaced with a cabinet of technocrats who were not tied to any political party. Ennahda — Mr. Jebali’s own party — said it would oppose the move. On Friday, Mr. Jebali reiterated that he would press ahead with his plan.
“I am going down that road, hopefully with the approval of all parties,” Mr. Jebali told reporters. “We must work for the best of the country.”
On Thursday, with a political crisis brewing, the army said it would “secure” Mr. Belaid’s funeral “and ensure the protection of participants,” according to Tunisia’s state news agency.
On Friday morning, near factories in Jebel Jelloud, where Mr. Belaid grew up, soldiers guarded a street leading to a cultural center where the coffin lay in state. Hundreds marched to the site from downtown Tunis, draping themselves in the Tunisian flag, as onlookers watched from balconies. Outside, in the rain, mourners gathered, carrying signs that said, “We are all Chokri Belaid.”
“We are steadfast, like mountains,” they chanted, as a woman cried in anguish. “We do not fear assassination.”
They began to march.
Among them were lawyers attending in solidarity with their slain colleague and wearing distinctive black robes that some had embellished with Tunisia’s flag. Mr. Belaid was known as the lawyer of the poor, one said, noting that he had defended Salafists with the same vigor as his other clients.
“We hope this will be the last episode of violence,” said one lawyer, Kais Triki. “The trouble is with the political class.”
On the side of the road, Ahlem Bousserwel smoked a cigarette and cried. “We fought for our country, and we won’t let others take that away from us,” she said. “We lost one of the best men. The price we are paying is too high.”
Some knew Mr. Belaid personally, and had lost a friend. Tayeb Ayad went to primary school with Mr. Belaid in Jebel Jelloud, where he said they both learned “what poverty was like.” For others, Mr. Belaid’s funeral was a symbol, a way to vent anger at the Islamists.
The mourners filled the green hills around the cemetery, waiting for the coffin. Witnesses said the clashes outside started after young men had vandalized cars. .
At the grave site, Hamma Hammami, another veteran leftist, delivered a eulogy and a warning. “Tunisians, come together,” he shouted into a megaphone. “The revolution continues.”