Thousands take to streets to protest Tunisian president’s bid to overhaul constitution

Supporters of the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) gather with national flags during a rally outside its headquarters in the capital Tunis on June 16, 2022, amidst a general strike announced by the UGTT. (Photo by AFP)

Thousands of people have taken to the streets of Tunisia’s capital to protest President Kais Saied’s bid to overhaul the country’s constitution.

The demonstration took place in Tunis on Saturday in protest at a referendum on a new constitution called by the president.

Saied assumed power last year, dismissing the constitution so he can rule by decree. He has also dissolved the elected parliament and dismissed scores of judges.

The Saturday protest was organized by Abir Moussi, leader of the Free Constitutional Party.

"Tunisians are starving, public finances are collapsing, but Saied does not care.. He only focuses on a personal project to impose his constitution…we will not accept that," Abir Moussi told the crowd.

Saied is seeking to overhaul the constitution to give the presidency more powers, against the backdrop of a tanking economy and fears of a public finance crisis. The president intends to put the new constitution to a referendum on July 25.

Sadok Belaid, the head of Tunisia's constitution committee said on Saturday he would hand over the new draft constitution to the president on Monday.

Tunisia's main political parties have said they would boycott the referendum. The powerful UGTT labor union has also refused to take part in talks on the new constitution.

Opponents have accused Saied of leading a coup, saying his attempt to revisit the constitution is aimed at consolidating his grip on power. His supporters, however, credit him with trying to tackle corruption at its roots.

Another protest called by other opposition parties, including the Ennahda Islamist party, is expected on Sunday to protest against the referendum and Saied's latest decrees, such as the dismissal of dozens of judges and military trials for some politicians.

Judges extend strike over sackings

Also on Saturday, Tunisian judges decided to extend their nationwide strike for a third week in protest against the decision by the head of state to dismiss 57 of them on June 1. Saied accuses the dismissed judges of corruption and protecting terrorists.

“The judges decided unanimously to extend the strike for a third week ... to hold a day of rage in which the judges will protest in the streets in their uniforms," said Mourad Massoudi, head of the Young Judges Association.

Judges suspended their work in courts on June 4 and said the president's decisions were designed to control the judiciary and use  it against his political opponents.

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