Ten months after Tunisian President Kais Said frustrated the country’s democratic transition by assuming full powers, suspending Parliament and the Constitution, the fragmented opposition is trying to find a united voice against a head of state who precisely blames all the evils of Tunisia to the political parties. The two formations with the most votes in the 2019 legislative elections – the Islamists of Ennahda and Qalb Tunis, the party of communication tycoon Nabil Karui – and eight other minors have joined a platform, the National Salvation Front, created just recently. one month. Its leader is Ahmed Najib Chebbi, a historical left-wing opponent of the dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali’s regime.
On Sunday, Habib Bourguiba avenue in the Tunisian capital, the same one that hosted the massive protests that overthrew Ben Ali in January 2011, thundered: “Down, down with the coup d’état!” That cry was shared by just over 2,000 people in the first demonstration of this opposition platform, which also includes civil society organizations. Microphone in hand, its leader, Chebbi, 77, promised to applause: “We are going to defend democracy, and we will not participate in the illegitimate Kais Said referendum.”
He was referring to the consultation called for next July 25 to measure the opinion of citizens on a new Constitution, which will be drawn up by a commission of jurists appointed by the head of state himself. The new Basic Law will be based on the results of a popular consultation on-line on the Tunisian political system held between January and March last and in which only 520,000 Tunisians participated, less than 10% of the potential voters, who exceed seven million. The consultation included questions such as: “Which political regime do you prefer?”.
setback in rights
Elected in 2019 with more than 70% of the votes, Said has justified this and other exceptional measures adopted in recent months, which have dismantled the constitutional architecture of the country – he has also suspended the Superior Council of the Magistracy -, in the need to fight against “the corrupt political class”.
“I voted for Kais Said, but not for him to do this. He did not come forward with a program to suspend the Constitution and democracy. He has disappointed me a lot, ”explained Sunday at the Moncef National Salvation Front demonstration, a middle-aged official who prefers not to give his last name for fear of reprisals. Before the protest, the police had sealed off the center and identified some of the people who were on their way to the rally. Attendees included a clear majority of men over 40, many of them sympathizers with Ennahda, the historic Tunisian Islamist movement.
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In recent months, several politicians and activists critical of the president have been arbitrarily arrested or prosecuted, while organizations such as International Amnesty have denounced a clear setback in respect for fundamental rights. The Union of Journalists has also criticized the growing obstacles to the work of the media, a trend reflected in the recent ranking on freedom of the press in the world prepared by Reporters Without Bordersin which Tunisia has dropped 20 places in just one year.
In addition to Ennahda and Qalb Tunis, the two most voted parties in the 2019 legislative elections, the National Salvation Front includes eight other minor formations, such as Tunes al-Irada, of former president Moncef Marzouki. “We are working to expand the coalition to other parties and personalities, so that we group the entire democratic opposition. We hope to be able to announce it soon,” Jawhar Ben Mbarek, a lawyer and well-known civil society activist, said on Sunday. Ben Mbarek, 53, is the leader of Citizens Against the Coup, another platform created by activists of various ideologies that was the first to take to the streets against Said.
Although Ben Mbarek does not mention them, among the parties that he aspires to incorporate into the Front are several formations of a social democratic nature, such as El Tayyar, until now reluctant to share banners with Ennahda. On the other hand, there is no coordination with the Free Desturian Party of Abir Moussi, former leader of dictator Ben Ali’s formation, well placed in the polls. “We represent the democratic opposition. Moussi is in the logic of exclusion, just like Said”, warned Ben Mbarek. At the moment, the General Union of Tunisian Workers, the powerful majority union, which has maintained a rather ambiguous position regarding Said, has not joined the initiative either. While demanding a true “national dialogue” from the president and criticizing his unilateralism, he has declined to join the opposition mobilizations.
“There is a growing political polarization. I haven’t seen such an environment since 2013″, says analyst Zied Krishen, referring to the year in which the transition was about to be derailed by bitter partisan disputes. Last week, the leader of the National Salvation Front assured in a press conference that he had information that the president intended to outlaw political parties. Although it has not happened, Said has multiplied his hostile statements towards political formations, which he accuses of sowing division in society.
While the government and opposition are at loggerheads, the concerns of a large part of society focus on the economic crisis and runaway inflation. “I don’t expect anything from Said or from the opposition. The president is a man of integrity, yes, but that is not enough. He doesn’t know about economics,” Walid, a barber from a popular neighborhood, complained on Sunday, while sitting down waiting for a client to arrive. Some signs point to an erosion of Said’s popularity, which peaked after his coup last summer, when thousands took to the streets. In contrast, last week, he barely managed to gather a few hundred people in a demonstration of support in the center of the capital.
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