Thousands of Tunisians protested President Kais Saied’s near-total seizure of power in the capital on Sunday, as growing numbers of people have taken to the streets in recent weeks increase the risk of sparking unrest.
A week after thousands of people protested in favor of Saïed, their growing numbers raise the possibility that Tunisian political divisions will turn into street clashes between rival camps.
“We will not accept the coup. Enough is enough,” said Yassin bin Amor, a protester.
A very strong police presence stopped all march on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in the center of Tunis. Despite some protesters throwing plastic bottles, there were no clashes.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Hayouni said police would treat protesters on both sides equally.
“The Tunisian police are republican police and they do not intervene in any political camp,” he declared.
Saied sacked the prime minister, suspended parliament and assumed executive power in July in moves his enemies call a coup. Last month he dismissed much of the constitution, which he said he would appoint a committee to amend, adding he could rule by decree.
His intervention appeared popular after years of economic stagnation and political paralysis, but it called into question the democratic gains made by Tunisians during a 2011 revolution that sparked the uprisings of the Arab Spring.
“We are against the coup (…) We reject the divisive discourse,” said Jaouhar Ben Mbarek, a leading activist and main organizer of the protests against Saied, saying they must be loyal to those killed in the the 2011 revolution.
Government formation awaits
Saied has appointed Najla Bouden Romdhane as prime minister, but she has yet to appoint a government, an important precursor to any effort to address the looming public finance crisis in Tunisia, although Saied said on Saturday that she would soon.
Saied said he would engage in dialogue with Tunisians on the future during a meeting on Saturday with acting interior minister Ridha Gharsalaoui.
Some protesters stood on top of vehicles during the protest. Opponents of the president’s recent steps to consolidate power have accused him of carrying out a political coup. But the country is politically divided, with many supporting his actions. (Zoubeir Souissi / Reuters)
Any dialogue that did not include the main political parties or other established elements of civil society, such as the powerful union, would likely generate more open opposition to its decisions.
Western donors, necessary to avoid a collapse in Tunisian public finances, called for an inclusive process to end the period of crisis, accompanied by a clear timetable.
While the political maneuvers on the future of Tunisia are advancing very slowly, Saied underlined the mobilization of the street to support his position.
Last week, more than 8,000 protesters gathered in Tunis to support Saied, reporters from Reuters and the state news agency said. The next day, Saied said 1.8 million people came to support him.