Tunisians mobilize against rising political persecution and government’s failure to address economic concerns 

Large protests were organized by political parties and trade unions on Saturday and Sunday against the crackdown on the opposition and economic woes. Calls have been given for for more people’s actions in the coming days

March 06, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Tunisia protests
(Photo: TAP)

Thousands of Tunisians took to the streets on Saturday and Sunday, March 4 and 5, to denounce attempts by President Kais Saied’s government to silence the opposition with threats of arrest and intimidation, and its failure to address the people’s basic economic concerns. 

On Saturday, protests were organized by the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) and the Tunisian Workers’ Party, among others. The protest, which appears to be the biggest against Saied’s rule so far, started from Tunis’ Mohamed Ali Square and ended at Habib Bourguiba Avenue. 

Protesters raised issues such as government restrictions on trade union movements and other matters of concern, including the rising cost of living and the government’s move to reduce subsidies on essential commodities such as food and energy, TAP reported

Speaking to the protesters, UGTT head Noureddine Tabouni asserted that “the workers are united and we have chosen the path of struggle; struggle does not come cheap.” He said that UGTT was opposed to the persecution of trade union activists and political figures, and committed to the protection of freedoms in the country. 

Dozens of activists, journalists, and judges have been arrested over the last few months by the police in Tunisia. Some have been charged with “conspiracy against state security” and are being tried in military courts. The opposition has termed this political persecution. 

Those arrested so far include Issam Chebbi, head of the opposition Republican Party; two leading members of the National Salvation Front (NSF), a coalition of parties opposing Saied’s rule; Noureddine Boutar, a senior journalist; and Anis Kaabi, a senior leader of the UGTT. 

United National Front

On Sunday, the call for mobilization was issued by the National Salvation Front (NSF), which is led by the country’s largest political party, Ennahda. Tunisia’s other main liberal and centrist parties are also part of the front. They are opposed to Saied’s rule and have demanded his resignation.

Sunday’s protests demanded that the government release all those arrested in cases related to so-called “conspiracy against state security,” and stop the crackdown on the opposition. 

NSF chief Nejib Chebbi also announced that beginning from this week, activists and ordinary citizens of Tunisia would hold weekly protests every Wednesday, until their demands are met. He also claimed that the NSF will try to form a united national front against Saied by working with the UGTT and other political forces in the country, TAP reported

The protests on Sunday were held despite a blanket ban imposed by the government. According to an Al Jazeera report, protesters defied police warnings that their gathering was “illegal” and marched to Habib Bourguiba Avenue, breaking barriers erected by the police. 

In July 2021, President Saied had dismissed the elected government and later dissolved the parliament. After ruling by decree for months, he introduced a new constitution last year that replaced the 2014 constitution, and made changes to various laws consolidating power in the office of the president. 

Saied has justified his so-called ‘political reforms’ by suggesting that they were necessary for dealing with the alleged widespread corruption and inefficiency among the political classes in the country. 

A majority of the country’s political parties and the largest trade union, the UGTT, have rejected Saied’s changes, with some of them accusing him of carrying out a political coup and attempting to establish an authoritarian system in the country.