Thousands march in Tunisia against president’s continuing power-grab

The demonstrations went ahead despite heavy presence of security forces and riot control personnel to prevent protesters from joining

April 11, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Citizens protest in Tunisia
(Photo: Mourad Teyeb/Twitter)

On Sunday, April 10, thousands of Tunisians took part in fresh protests against president Kais Saied and his ongoing measures to seize all power in the country. The protesters denounced the president’s unilateral arbitrary moves since last July as “unconstitutional” and “anti-democratic”. They also opposed the upcoming constitutional referendum and other reforms announced by him. President Saied wants to replace the post-revolution constitution formed in the years following the 2011 revolution against former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

According to reports, between 3,000-4,000 protesters marched in the streets of capital Tunis, including on the prominent Bourguiba avenue, chanting slogans like, “Get out”, “the people want to dismiss the president”, “down with the coup”, “The people don’t want what you want” and “there is no democracy without legislative power”. Several protesters were seen waving the Tunisian flag. 

The demonstrations were jointly organized by Ennahda, the biggest party in the now dissolved parliament, and Citizens Against the Coup, a civil society group formed after the president’s power grab last year to resist his takeover. News reports and several social media posts stated that the demonstrations went ahead despite a heavy presence of security forces and riot control personnel. Several security barriers were erected and severe restrictions were imposed on roads leading up to the capital to prevent more protesters from joining the demonstrations.

Similar protests have been witnessed in the recent past against the president’s actions even as he continues to introduce additional measures to consolidate his power. Last month, he dissolved the parliament after some members met in an online session and voted to declare his actions as “illegal”. Several parliamentarians who took part in the session, including the head of Ennahda Rached Ghannouchi, were later summoned for questioning by the anti-terrorism police. 

Since July last year, President Saied’s extraordinary moves have plunged Tunisia into political uncertainty and crisis as he fired the prime minister, dismissed the government, suspended the parliament, and delegated all executive and legislative powers to himself. In the following months, he suspended parts of the constitution and gave himself additional powers to pass laws through issuing presidential decrees. In addition to the constitutional referendum, the president also announced general elections to be held in December 2022, to be conducted according to the new constitution. He subsequently dissolved the country’s top judicial authority, the Supreme Judicial Council, and replaced it with a provisional body whose members are to be appointed by the president himself. 

Such moves have systematically targeted branches of government as well as independent institutions that could oppose the president’s authority, gradually bringing them under his control. The president also recently announced changes to the country’s voting system, a move bitterly opposed by parties across the political spectrum who have vowed to not participate in any elections held under the new rules or under a new constitution. Parties have also signaled their intention to boycott the referendum. 

The opposition has claimed that all these arbitrary decisions were taken without any consultation with other political stakeholders or the broader civil society, which is also becoming increasingly vocal against the president’s actions.