Several hundred leaders and supporters of the opposition have gathered this Tuesday in the center of the capital of Tunis in the middle of a wave of extreme heat. In a joint protest, the political forces of Parliament dissolved two years ago by the Tunisian president, Kais Said, have demanded the release of more than two dozen critical politicians, judges or journalists detained since last February. The opposition regrouped under the umbrella of the National Salvation Front is also trying to coordinate to stand up to Said with a single candidate, who since the 2021 self-coup has governed by decree, in next year’s presidential elections.
“Down with the coup!”, “Freedom for the prisoners!”, were some of the slogans chanted by the protesters in the heat of heat, with temperatures that have touched 50º in the North African country, reports France Presse. The wave of repression unleashes against the opposition had reduced the entity of the protests against the authoritarian drift of the president in recent months. Dozens of dissidents have been imprisoned, labeled without charge as terrorists under the vague accusation of “attacking the security of the State.” Among them is Rachid Ganuchi, 81, former president of the Legislative Assembly and leader of the Ennahda Islamist movement, the largest party in the Chamber closed on July 25, 2021.
“President Said’s seizure of power has been reinforced through repression and the imprisonment of opponents and detractors of the regime, and under a judiciary that has been undermined,” he warned. International Amnesty in a report ahead of the second anniversary of the dissolution of Parliament in Tunis. The resort to “fictitious accusations” to arrest dissidents is depriving Tunisians, according to the NGO defending human rights, of the freedoms they won in 2011, after the revolt that overthrew the dictator Zin el Abidin Ben Ali at the outbreak of the Arab Spring.
Ahmed Neyib Chebi, 74, the visible head of the National Salvation Front, has accused Said of having attacked “all State institutions, from the judiciary to Parliament”, from the media to trade unions”, and of having rejected “all offers of political dialogue”. “Tunisia lives under a hybrid model, in which some electoral competition is expected in the presidential elections scheduled for December 2024, but the opposition alliance does not yet represent an alternative to Said,” political analyst Tarek Kalauif argued in a conversation with EL PAÍS.
Said, who was elected with 72% of the vote in 2019, has an apparent advantage in the polls to revalidate his mandate for another five years against an opposition bloc made up of parties discredited in public opinion after a decade of misrule and impoverishment of the country.
A 65-year-old professor of Constitutional Law, practically unknown until his election in 2020, Said has extensive prerogatives after having reformed the Constitution, in a referendum approved by only 30% of voters, and reopening Parliament, after some legislative elections to which nearly 90% of voters turned their backs.
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Said is also at odds with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), on which a rescue plan to save Tunisia from bankruptcy has depended since October last year. In exchange for an injection of 1,900 million dollars (1,720 million euros), the Tunisian government must cut subsidies on basic products – such as sugar, milk, coffee or oil – and liquidate monopolies in public sector companies.
The president rejects the impositions of the Fund, which in turn has paralyzed an aid program of 900 million euros offered by the European Union to mitigate the effects of cuts in social aid. Despite criticism in the European Parliament of the autocratic drift of the president, the European Commission has opted for stability in Tunisia to prevent the avalanche of small boats from its coasts, which have deposited more than 37,000 irregular migrants on the coasts of Italy so far this year.
Kais Said seems to have played the migration card to consolidate his power. An EU troika made up of the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen; The Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, and the outgoing head of Government of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, reached a principle of agreement on migration on the 16th in Tunisia, so that the North African country stops the arrivals of small boats to Europe through the Central Mediterranean. The memorandum of understanding groups for now several areas of financing that total 300 million euros, to combat irregular migration, promote the digitization of the economy or the development of sustainable energy sources.
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