Tunisia protest shows rift over president’s seizure of power

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Several thousand protesters gathered in central Tunis to protest the recent consolidation of power by President Kais Saied, which his critics have called a “coup”.

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The protests reflected an increasingly visible rift in Tunisian society over the president’s actions. Police presence was markedly increased for the demonstration, and scuffles were reported as demonstrators tried to overcome barriers put up on Bourguiba Avenue, the city’s main street. A state television journalist was hospitalized after she collided with rocks and water bottles thrown by angry protesters.

Sayeed abruptly sacked the prime minister, assumed all executive powers, and froze parliament on 25 July following nationwide anti-government protests. He said that he was seeking to save the country from the worsening economic, political and health crisis. Last month he gave himself the power to govern by decree and partially suspended the 2014 constitution.

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Saeed’s actions have proved widely popular among those who view him as a corruption fighter against the country’s much-discussed political elite. But others are concerned that his actions signaled an insurgency against Tunisian autocracy in 2011, which ignited what would become known as the Arab Spring.

In recent weeks, thousands of Tunisians have staged tit-for-tat demonstrations every weekend. This Sunday, the crowd was mainly made up of middle-aged men and women, many of them supporters of Tunisia’s Islamic parties that had been sidelined by Sayyid’s measures.

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At Sunday’s demonstration, teacher Raja Masmoudi told The Associated Press she did not want to see Tunisia return to dictatorship.

“The future in Tunisia is really scary for me. For now, we don’t know what we will have in the form of institutions. We don’t have a parliament, our country doesn’t have a democracy.”

“Save our democracy!”, “People want to remove the president!”, read several placards. Referring to Syed’s speech on Saturday, a woman wrote, “Ever seen a president calling his people worms?” In which he called Sunday’s protesters “bugs” and “freaks”.

Protester Gharbi Rebha said she was concerned by Saeed’s divisive rhetoric and said the president should encourage his people to unite rather than fight each other.

Rebha voted for Sayeed in the 2019 elections, giving her a landslide victory – and now she feels betrayed.

“I worked to persuade my neighborhood to vote for him… I told him ‘You should vote for Saeed, he’s clean, it’s better. You can’t even imagine what I did for him, I was campaigning for him at night too! When he won I brought cakes for my neighbors.

Protester Mohamed Souhail, a 63-year-old engineer, called for massive civil disobedience to counter Sayeed’s consolidation of power.

Interior ministry spokesman Khalid Lahouni said the heavy police presence was intended to “ensure the safety of the protesters”.

Amer Ayyad, an anchor for Al Zitouna TV channel, was arrested last week after criticizing Saeed and reading anti-dictatorship poetry in the air. A military investigation has charged him with “conspiracy against the security of the state” and “committing a heinous act against the President of the Republic”, among other charges.

Its equipment was also confiscated by authorities near Al Zitouna. Tunisia’s communications authority, HAICA, says this was because the channel was operating illegally without a license.

Credit: www.independent.co.uk / Tunisia

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