Despite the restrictions on gatherings imposed on the nation due to the surging coronavirus, some Tunisians recently stormed the streets to protest against President Kais Saied calling for an end to his ‘coup’.
This was on the heel of 11 years since the late dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled into exile. It was gathered that police deployed heavily in central Tunis to counter the anti-Saied rallies.
According to AFP, over 1,000 protesters gathered on Mohamed V Avenue, but they were prevented from reaching the iconic Habib Bourguiba Avenue, epicentre of the vast protests that toppled Ben Ali in 2011.
It was gathered that some demonstrators broke through a police cordon before police baton charges and tear gas and water cannons pushed them back.
Harping on the development, said Fathi Jarai, president of the independent anti-torture body the INPT said “It’s the most violent intervention by security forces we’ve seen in the past year, both in terms of the methods used and the number of arrests”.
Local reports had it that some protesters had chanted “down with the coup!”, a reference to Saied’s July 25 moves in which he sacked the government, froze parliament and seized a range of powers.
He has since virtually ruled by decree, to the outrage of his opponents, including the powerful Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party.
However, tired of the inept and graft-ridden parliamentary system, some Tunisians welcomed his moves.
But for his critics, both among Ennahdha members and on the left, they foreshadowed a possible return to the same kind of autocratic practices that were common under Ben Ali.
In his remarks, prominent human rights activist Sihem Bensedrine, who headed the now-defunct Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD), accused authorities of taking away Tunisians’ right to protest and threatening the country’s “hard-won freedom”.
She said “We’re here to defend the institutions of the republic”.
“This people, which toppled a 23-year dictatorship, is not going to let another dictator take its place.”
‘Working for Sisi’
According to reports, one of Saied’s moves was to shift the official anniversary of the revolution from the date of Ben Ali’s flight to December 17, the day in 2010 when vegetable seller Mohamed Bouazizi burned himself alive sparking the first mass protests.
It was reportedly stated that the move was seen as epitomizing Saied’s view that the revolution had been stolen.
In his remarks, Sofiane Ferhani, whose sister died in the revolution, said Saied had no right to “touch” the January 14 anniversary.
He said “We won’t let him do it, this day is too dear to us”.
Ennahdha supporters have compared Saied to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, whose crackdown on Islamist demonstrators in 2013 left hundreds dead.
Ennahdha, the biggest party in the suspended parliament has accused Saied of “utilising the coronavirus crisis for political ends, targeting what remains of the margin of freedom” in Tunisia.
Meanwhile, the flexing of muscles comes amid heightened tensions between the party and Saied after former justice minister Noureddine Bhiri and another senior Ennhadha official were arrested by plainclothes police officers on December 31 and later accused of possible “terrorism” offences.