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Tunisian protest shows growing resistance to president’s one-man rule

European Union - African Union Summit in Brussels
Tunisia’s President Kais Saied makes a statement on vaccination against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) during a European Union-African Union summit February 18, 2022 in Brussels, Belgium. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/Pool

March 13, 2022

TUNIS (Reuters) – Thousands of supporters of a hard-line secularist Tunisian party protested against President Kais Saied on Sunday over his march towards one-man rule and his failure to avert an economic crisis, showing increasingly broad opposition to his actions.

The protest by the Free Constitutional Party is the largest since Saied usurped executive power last summer, dismissed Parliament and said he could rule by decree in movements that have called many of his rivals to a coup d’état.

However, the party and its fiery leader Abir Moussi are not faithful to the democratic system Tunisia adopted after its 2011 revolution, instead espousing a nostalgic vision of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s autocratic regime that preceded it.

“Said you are going in the wrong direction… Your plans are disastrous for the country,” said Karima Jouini, 44, a teacher who took part in the Moussi-led march in central Tunis.

The most vocal opposition to Saied has come from the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party, the largest in the suspended parliament and a key figure in successive governments since the revolution.

Moussi and her Free Constitution Party are bitterly opposed to Ennahda, blaming it for being the cause of Tunisia’s main problems over the past decade, and she has not criticized any of Saied’s moves against Islamists.

But while Saied has focused almost exclusively on rebuilding the political system and purging his opponents, he has done very little to address Tunisia’s economic woes.

“Rest assured, we will not allow them to dismantle the state and proceed with individual rule,” Moussi said of the protest.

“If we remain silent, we will become a country whose food is sent there on planes, like the poorest countries in the world,” she added.

The country is facing a public finance crisis for which it has started bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund, but Tunisians are already facing shortages of basic necessities like flour, semolina and sugar.

“Saied hijacked the country just to impose his own project, but he led it into famine,” said another protester, who gave his name as Imed.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara, Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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Bobby Allyn

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