More than 5,000 demonstrators on Sunday demonstrated their support across Tunisia for President Kais Saied, whose takeover sparked controversy in the cradle of the Arab Spring.
With around 3,000 of them gathered in the capital Tunis, the pro-Saied crowd overtook that which had gathered a week earlier to oppose it.
“We are all Kais Saied, we are all Tunisia”, they chanted avenue Bourguiba, the main artery in central Tunis, also shouting that “the people want the dissolution of parliament”.
On July 25, after months of political stalemate, Saied sacked the prime minister, suspended parliament and granted himself judicial powers, a move he followed in September with measures that effectively allow the president to rule by decree.
The parliamentary suspension lifted the immunity of MPs and on Sunday – during the last detention of a lawmaker – an MP and a journalist were arrested for criticizing Saied’s actions, their lawyer Samir Ben Omar said.
Saied, elected at the end of 2019, said his action was aimed at saving Tunisia from “imminent peril” during a painful socio-economic crisis worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The public health crisis has helped push the official unemployment rate down from 15% to almost 18%. The economy has grown only 0.6 percent over the past decade.
The security forces were deployed in force on Sunday on Bourguiba Avenue, in particular in front of the municipal theater where the demonstration was being held.
“We support him”
The demonstrators carried red and white Tunisian flags and carried banners on which one could read: “The people want a revision of the constitution” and “Saïed, official spokesperson of the people”.
About 1,000 Saied supporters also gathered in the industrial city of Sfax and a similar number in the seaside resort of Sousse, while smaller protests took place elsewhere, local media reported.
“Saied wants to implement reforms and we support him,” Noura ben Fadhel, a civil servant, told AFP at the rally in Tunis.
“I have come to support the change to end the current decline. We are fed up with it. It’s been 10 years and that’s enough! she said.
For Elyes Ouni, 28, who campaigned for Saied in 2019, “July 25 ended a broken system. Now he’s in the morgue and today we’re going to bury him.
He blamed Parliament for the “degradation of the country”.
” Takeover “
Saied, a former law professor, considers that the Tunisian constitution of 2014 is unbalanced in favor of the parliament. He has never hidden his hostility towards political parties, in particular the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha who held the most seats in the suspended parliament.
The previous Sunday, an estimated 2,000 crowd gathered, also on Bourguiba Avenue, to protest what they called a “coup” by Saied.
Some shouted “Get out, get out”, a slogan that began in December 2010 and culminated with the resignation of Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.
This sparked Arab Spring protests in several countries, but Tunisia is the only democracy to emerge from the movement.
The lawyer Ben Omar told AFP that the deputy Abdellatif al-Alaoui and the presenter of Zitouna TV Amer Ayad had been arrested for “conspiracy against the security of the State”.
On the show, they both criticized the president’s September 29 appointment of Najla Bouden as Tunisia’s first female prime minister, with Ayad mocking that she would only function as “the sultan’s servant.”
Although Saied’s July measures received significant public support, civil society groups denounced the “seizure of power” and warned against moving away from democracy.