Tunisians call for President Saied’s resignation amid deepening political crisis

Tunisian protesters raise placards and national flags during a demonstration against their president, not far from the Tunisian Assembly (parliament) headquarters, in the capital Tunis, on March 20, 2022. (Via AFP)

Thousands of Tunisians have taken to the streets of the capital Tunis on Sunday, the country’s Independence Day, to protest against President Kais Saied, who is accused of power grab amid a deepening political crisis.

The protesters rallied on parliament in the Bardo neighborhood of Tunis, coinciding with the 66th anniversary of the Tunisian Independence Day, accusing the former jurist and university professor of monopolizing power.

Protesters were heard chanting slogans such as “the people want to bring down the coup”, “the people want to depose the president”, and “no to consultations”.

The protest was organized by the Ennahdha party, also known as the Renaissance Party, and a movement named "Citizens Against the Coup".

It was the latest in a series of demonstrations that have rocked the North African country since Saied on July 25 grabbed power after dismissing the incumbent government and freezing the parliament.

His opponents have slammed the move as a "coup" and rights groups have warned that the country – the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings – could be sliding back into autocracy.

Among the demonstrators on Sunday were people who had voted for Saied, such as blogger and rights activist, Mounira Bouazizi.

“I thought he believed in democracy and the gains of the revolution, but he did the complete opposite,” she was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

Mohammed, a retired government employee, echoed her. “We cannot call this a democratic process. Today, the people are divided between pro and anti-Kaid Saied; this harms freedoms and democracy.”

“We will not accept the results of the consultation, this farce against the people,” Samira Chaouachi, vice president in the frozen parliament, told the crowd.

Sunday marked the last day of an online poll launched by Saied in January aimed at rewriting the country's constitution, with the results set to be presented to a committee of experts.

Prime Minister Najla Bouden was last week asked by Saied to give Tunisians free internet access to the consultation site until the process ends on March 20.

So far only 508,000 people – about seven percent of the seven million eligible voters – have taken part, according to official statistics cited by Africa News.

Saied, a former law professor who took office in 2019, has defended his controversial measures, saying they are in line with the constitution while promising to safeguard freedoms and rights.

He has blamed the low turnout on "technical obstacles" and "attempts by the old system to abort this experiment" – in an apparent reference to his rival camp, Ennahdha.

"We want early presidential and legislative elections," Ennahdha member Yamina Zoghlami was quoted as saying.

"We are in the midst of a political crisis and we must have a political dialogue to save the country," she added, warning of what she called the "Lebanese scenario" in the North African country.

In a speech in February, Saied had accused civil society groups of serving foreign interests and trying to meddle in Tunisian politics, saying he would move to ban all foreign funding for such groups.

While his opponents have accused Saied of staging a coup, he has insisted on tackling the country’s political and economic crises and has promised to uphold rights and freedoms won in the 2011 revolution that ushered in democracy in the country.

Saied, elected in late 2019, has been accused by his opponents of orchestrating a new dictatorship, a decade after the 2011 revolt that overthrew long-time ruler, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Demonstrators on Sunday also called for the release of the former head of the bar association, Abderrazek Kilani, arrested in early March on charges of "disturbing public order with the intent to obstruct the application of the law".

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