More than 2,000 people participated Sunday in Tunisia in the first demonstration organized by the National Salvation Front, recently formed by five parties opposed to President Kais Saied, in particular that of Ennahdha, his pet peeve.
Brandishing signs “we shall overcome” (“we will overcome”) or “we are united not divided” (“we are united, not divided”), between 2,000 and 3,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the municipal theater on Bourguiba Avenue , the main artery of Tunis, according to AFP journalists.
“The people want what you don’t want”, protesters proclaimed to President Kais Saïed, demanding “respect for the Constitution and a return to democracy”.
After months of political deadlock, Kais Saied assumed full powers on July 25 by suspending the activities of Parliament. Since then, even though he formed a government, he has ruled the country by decree.
In a new step taken at the end of March, he dissolved parliament and changed the composition of the Superior Council of the Judiciary and the Isie electoral authority.
Under pressure from his opponents who denounce “a coup d’etat” and from the international community, worried about an authoritarian drift in the cradle of the Arab Spring, Kais Saied announced a roadmap providing for a referendum on the Constitution on 25 July and legislative elections on 17 December.
Sunday, the crowd was less dense than expected while the National Salvation Front, formed on April 26 around veteran leftist Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, thought to attract new support to the anti-Saied camp. This has been led for months by the Islamist-inspired party Ennahdha and the Citizens movement against the coup d’etat of the jurist Jahouar Ben Mbarek. Last fall, these formations had mobilized up to 6 or 7,000 demonstrators.
Salah Tzaoui, a 57-year-old teacher, interviewed by AFP, said he was “a little disappointed with the crowds”. He expected “more people” because many have, like him who participated in the Kais Saied support committees in 2019, “a feeling of complete betrayal”.
He notes the strong presence of the over 40s: “These are those who have experienced the dictatorship (by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, editor’s note) and no longer want that”.
Not far away, Khaled Benabdelkarim, another 60-year-old teacher, also voted for Kais Saied, a professor of constitutional law elected by surprise in 2019. For him, the president “Betrayed the people, stole democracy. It has no political project or economic project, apart from submission to foreign powers”.
In addition to the political deadlock, Tunisia is sinking into a serious economic crisis with sluggish growth, high unemployment, galloping inflation accentuated by the war in Ukraine and over-indebtedness which has pushed it to ask for a new loan from the IMF.