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Tunisia continues crackdown of opposition leaders

February 14, 2023

A critical radio host and an opposition leader are the most recent figures to be arrested. The wave of detentions point to a new repressive shift by President Kais Saied.

President Kais Saied
President Kais Saied has been accused of turning Tunisia into an authoritarian regimeImage: Jdidi Wassim/SOPA/ZUMA/picture alliance

Tunisian police on Monday ramped up their crackdown on opposition leaders with the arrest of a senior politician and the head of a radio station critical of President Kais Saied.

Noureddine Bhiri, a leading official in the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party — the largest opposition party in Tunisia — and outspoken critic of Saied, was arrested after police raided his home, his lawyer Samir Dilou said.

The head of the popular radio station Mosaique FM, Noureddine Boutar, was also arrested on Monday following a search of his home, his lawyer Dalila Ben Mbarek said.

Boutar's station has frequently aired criticism of Saied while state-run broadcasters have for the most part stopped giving air-time to critics of the president.

A new wave of arrests

The arrests of Boutar and Bhiri come amid a wave of detentions of opposition figures.

Over the weekend, police arrested powerful businessman Kamel Eltaief — who was a close friend of ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali — Abdelhamid Jelassi — a former senior leader of Ennahdha — and political activist Khayam Turki.

Bhiri had already been held for two months last year after authorities accused him of aiding Islamist fighters in their efforts to go to Syria.

Nevertheless, the recent spike in detentions marks a possible shift in President Saied's approach to opposition figures after a period in which mass arrests had been absent despite accusations of a political coup.

Is Tunisia returning to authoritarianism?

Saied assumed power in July 2021 when he closed down parliament, dismissed the government and moved to rule by decree.

The ruling party at the time had been the Ennahdha party.

He then went on to rewrite the constitution saying that his radical moves had been necessary to save the country from chaos.

Ben Ali governed the country for 23 years and died in exile in 2019. He was the first autocratic leader brought down by the uprisings that swept the region. Tunisia has been the only Arab Spring country to make a peaceful transition to democracy.

ab/jsi (Reuters, AFP)