Thousands of Tunisians protest against Saied’s suspension of the constitution

By on September 26, 2021 0

Thousands of Tunisians gathered on Sunday afternoon on Avenue Habib Bourguiba in the capital Tunis to protest against President Kais Saied, days after suspending much of the constitution to further consolidate power.

Cries of “degage” – “get out” in French – rose from the crowd. This is the cry used by protesters when former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted from power in 2011.

Other revolutionary slogans have been retooled for the time being. “Work, freedom and national dignity”, a common demand during protests since 2010, has been transformed into “constitution, freedom and national dignity”.

Saied’s decision to suspend parliament in July was hailed by many Tunisians who were fed up with corruption and the lack of economic stability. But in the next two months, he has yet to put in place a government, reveal a roadmap, or move forward on corruption charges he has promised to bring to justice.

Sunday’s protest, which was the first major action against Mr. Saied since his consolidation of power, marked a major shift in public opinion towards the president.

Protester Meriem, 23, said she was excited about Mr Saied when he ran for office in 2019, but his recent decisions had left her worried about the future of democracy.

“From day one, the only thing he wanted was to change the regime in Tunisia – and I’m not against that – but he should do it through conventional means of changing the laws and changing the regime,” he said. she declared. “His voice threatens our democracy and threatens our transition in Tunisia. “

Police in riot gear blocked the street early, but crowds poured into the alleys to join the 3,500 protesters. Shrewd vendors peddled Tunisian and Palestinian flags, and men walked through the crowds to hand out dates to protesters withered by the heat and humidity.

Moez Baklouti, 55, a sports management instructor from the popular Bab Souika district, said he came to express his opposition to Mr. Saied’s suspension of the constitution.

“It takes time to achieve the long-term goals of democracy and we cannot ignore the work we have already done,” he said.

He believed people were largely happy with the constitution, but what they really wanted was economic solvency.

“Political independence means nothing if we do not have economic independence,” said Mr. Baklouti.

The Tunisian economy has long suffered from high levels of unemployment and poverty, a trend exacerbated by the pandemic. The government must repay a $ 2 billion loan to foreign donors in November or risk default, but since Mr. Saied took power, talks with the International Monetary Fund for a loan program to help to repay the debt have stalled.

Ayed Kamira, 53, said the country needed political reforms, but he did not trust Saied to improve the constitution.

“He broke his oath to defend the constitution and be everyone’s president,” Kamira said.

“The 2014 constitution was built by consensus, with input from so many parts of society. “

For the week following his consolidation in power, Mr. Saied has refused to meet with political parties, civil society organizations or powerful unions in the country to discuss a way out of the political crisis. In previous statements, he called for the dissolution of civil society organizations and political parties.

I can’t tolerate one person taking ultimate control

Protester Moufida Rakhmani

Sunday’s protest was the first for Moufida Rakhmani, 48. She said that as a law student under Ben Ali, she “could never have imagined a political system with a separation of powers”, and came to the demonstration to defend this system.

“I cannot tolerate that one person takes ultimate control – even the Prophet had the Shura [consultative] advice, ”she said.

A small group of Mr. Saied’s supporters attended the protest, and the police separated the two camps.

“We support Saied because he has declared war on a corrupt political class,” a man who only gave his name to Ahmed told Reuters.

On Saturday, another group of around 50 pro-Saied protesters gathered on the steps of the National Theater to express their support for the president’s recent initiatives. They burned copies of the 2014 constitution, which was passed by the Constituent Assembly with almost unanimous support.

During Sunday’s protest, engineer Mohamed Amine Ben Yahia, 43, said the Tunisian people had no problem with the constitution.

“They worry about whether they will be paid at the end of the month. A new constitution will not solve this problem, ”he said.

“We are committed to the democratic process and want it to continue.

Update: September 26, 2021, 8:02 p.m.

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