Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

Tunisia: Thousands Protest President Saied’s Power Grab

Protests in Tunis last Saturday mark the first major demonstration in Tunisia since President Kais Saied seized power and dismissed parliament in July.

Facebook Twitter Share
Photo: Zoubeir Souissi/ Reuters

Protesters have taken to the streets of Tunisia’s capital, Tunis, in a public rejection of President Kais Saied’s decision to increase his powers.

Thousands of people demonstrated in central Tunisia on Saturday, chanting “Shut down the coup,” “We want to return to legitimacy,” and “The people want the coup to fail.” Many were also carrying banners calling for the restoration of parliament and democracy.

Saied’s supporters held a counter-demonstration chanting, “the people want to dissolve parliament.”

The protest was met with a heavy police presence on Habib Bourguiba Avenue. It was the first major demonstration since Saied declared on July 25 that he was dismissing the prime minister, suspending parliament, and assuming executive authority: moves that his opponents have labeled a coup d’état.

The boulevard was an epicenter of the 2011 Arab Spring protests in response to the overthrow of ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and has a strong symbolic presence in Tunisia’s political imagination.

The president, a former constitutional law professor, justified his decision by citing emergency measures in the constitution. However, his critics and many legal scholars said that they still did not support his intervention.

Last week, one of Saied’s advisers told the Reuters news agency that the president was planning to suspend the constitution and offer a reformed version through a referendum, sparking opposition from political parties and the powerful UGTT labor union.

While many Tunisians welcomed Saied’s decision to dissolve the deeply unpopular parliament, his inability since July 25 to appoint a prime minister or offer any long-term plan has led to growing frustration.

Kais Saied has justified his actions by calling them a “course correction” after large demonstrations erupted across the country in July challenging high unemployment, corruption, and what was seen as an ineffective political class.

You might be interested in: Coup in Tunisia: Not What the Arab Spring Revolutionaries Had in Mind

On Tuesday, Saied said he would not “deal and negotiate with agents and traitors and those who pay money to disrespect their country.”

“This is a state with two regimes, an apparent regime, that of the institutions, and a real regime, that of the mafia,” he said, apparently referring to Ennahda.

Political leaders have complained about the constitution since it was agreed upon in 2014, calling for it to be changed to either a more directly presidential or a more directly parliamentary system.

Worries are growing, both internally and from the international community, that Tunisia may lose the rights and (bourgeois) democratic system it gained as a result of the 2011 mobilizations that sparked the “Arab Spring” and overturned the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Several human rights groups have expressed concern over Saied’s actions, warning of growing authoritarianism.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Tunisian Association for the Defense of Individual Freedoms have issued warnings of increased “arbitrary and politically motivated acts of repression” after July 25.

Eight weeks later, Saied has yet to appoint a prime minister. He has rejected accusations of a coup, and portrayed his moves as an opportunity to purge the government of a corrupt elite.

While triggering a constitutional crisis and sparking accusations of a coup, Saied’s moves were initially widely popular in a country suffering from economic stagnation and political paralysis. The political system that emerged after the Arab Spring failed to address the country’s structural needs.

Gross domestic product (GDP) fell by 9% last year, commodity prices have soared, and a third of young people are unemployed. It is therefore not surprising that most of the demonstrators who clashed with the repressive forces in recent days are mostly young people and teenagers. These youth saw that the fall of Ben Ali did not change their material or living conditions, and can only envision a bleak future ahead.

In this sense, Saied took advantage of the political weakening of parties such as Enahda (Renaissance) to roll back the limited democratic rights gained during the Arab Spring. This authoritarian turn, however, cannot address the grievances of the millions living in poverty, and will only lead to further repression.  

First published in Spanish on September 18 in La Izquireda Diário.

Translation by Kripa Mehta

Facebook Twitter Share

La Izquierda Diario Argentina

Our Argentinian sister site, part of the international network of La Izquierda Diario

Middle East-Africa

On the Anniversary of the Nakba, Berlin Police Ban All Pro-Palestinian Demonstrations

This is an unprecedented attack on the freedom of assembly, and it is being carried out by a "left-wing" government. Several hundred people defied the ban — and 59 were detained by police.

Nathaniel Flakin

May 16, 2022

Journalists Must Show Solidarity with Shireen Abu Akleh and Those Covering the Struggle in Palestine

Israeli occupation forces' murder of Shireen Abu Akleh should inspire solidarity from journalists around the world. This means fighting the bourgeois press and their imperialist line.

Sam Carliner

May 12, 2022
Dozens of people gather in front of the Graduate Center for a picture, waving Palestinian flags and holding pro-Palestine signs

CUNY Students and Workers Protest Administration Visit to Israel

This week, CUNY’s Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez and several college Presidents are visiting Israel to “build bridges” with Israeli universities. We must mobilize for the liberation of Palestine, and against these efforts at whitewashing Israeli oppression.

Olivia Wood

May 1, 2022
Israeli security forces move in positions during clashes with Palestinian protestors at the compound that houses Al-Aqsa Mosque, known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City April 15, 2022.

Over 220 Palestinians Injured and Several Hundreds Detained in Attack on Al-Aqsa Mosque

Israeli occupation forces stormed and raided the third-holiest site in Islam, with premeditated violence and brutality. We need to continue efforts surrounding international solidarity with the Palestinian people fighting for their liberation.


April 15, 2022


NATO’s Push to Expand: Will Finland and Sweden Finally Join?

Putin’s reactionary invasion of Ukraine is changing the balance of forces in Europe. Now Sweden and Finland, which had been historically neutral, are considering joining NATO.

Óscar Fernández

May 19, 2022

In the Latest Primaries, the Battle within the Parties Continues

Tuesday's primaries delivered wins to Trump endorsed candidates and some progressives, signaling that the fight for the parties is far from over.

Ezra Brain

May 18, 2022
Argentinians hold green bandanas as part of the "Green Wave" for abortion rights

Why We Wear Green Bandanas for Abortion Rights

The green bandana has become a symbol of the movement for safe, legal, and free abortion. Here, an Argentinian feminist explains its origins.

Celeste Murillo

May 18, 2022
Eugene, Oregon Starbucks workers on strike hold signs outside the store that read "HONK for Workers Rights."

Oregon Starbucks Workers Go on Strike against Union Busting

Starbucks workers in Eugene, Oregon have gone on strike against union busting and the unlawful firing of three union organizers.

Left Voice

May 17, 2022