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Tunisia: Protest marks new coalition against President Saied

May 15, 2022

Protesters gathered in Tunis to reject President Kais Saied's rule, blaming him for returning Tunisia to a state of autocratic rule. The New Salvation Front has coalesced several parties to oppose him.

Protesters holding up signs at a demonstration in central Tunis
Sunday's protest was the largest anti-Saied protest in several monthsImage: Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images

Several thousand people showed up to a protest on Sunday to demand a return to democracy, opposing what they consider a power grab by Tunisian President Kais Saied.

Protesters from the National Salvation Front gathered on Bourguiba Avenue in the capital Tunis, a site favored for demonstrations, carrying signs that read "We shall overcome" and "We are united, not divided."

Although the protest marked an increase in public displays of opposition to the president, the estimated 2,000 participants was lower than expected.

"The people want… respect for the constitution and a return to democracy," some of those at the demonstration chanted.

Broad anti-Saied coalition

Saied suspended the country's parliament and sacked the government, as well as granting himself the power to rule by decree, in July last year.

He has repeatedly rejected claims that it was a coup, and insisted that he plans on replacing the constitution via a referendum, arguing that it was a necessary step following years of political paralysis and economic stagnation.

Tunisia analyst Mariam Salehi speaks to DW

The new coalition against him comprises five political parties, including the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha Party — Saied's longtime rivals — as well as civil society groups and independent political figures.

A separate protest was held by supporters of the country's previous dictator, Zine El Abedine Ben Ali, who was ousted during the Arab Spring over a decade ago.

While Saied still has some popular support — after all many agreed with his criticisms of the political order — a demonstration in his favor a week earlier attracted far fewer people.

Fears of return to autocracy

Tunisia's economy and public finances are in crisis, just as the government is in talks with the IMF for a rescue package.

Some of Sunday's protesters accused the president of leading the country into "starvation."

Saied, a former law professor, came to power in 2019. At the time, general anger against the political class was high as the post-revolutionary order had become stuck in a stalemate.

However, the president's refusal to include people in forming the new constitution, as was done with the 2014 post-revolutionary constitution, has seen an increasing number of people come out against him and warn of his dangerous path back towards autocracy.

ab/jcg (AFP, Reuters)