Tunisia: Protest broken up after skirmish as opposition calls for return to 2014 constitution

Tunisia: Protest broken up after skirmish as opposition calls for return to 2014 constitution
Opposition groups in Tunisia have continued to pressure President Kais Saied into backtracking on a controversial constitution which has given him greater powers.
3 min read
08 January, 2023
The NSFT has held many protests calling on Saied to step down [Getty/archive]

Tunisian security forces dispersed a protest on Sunday after members and supporters of the National Salvation Front (NSFT) clashed with supporters of President Kais Saied amid rising political tensions and a deteriorating economy.

The skirmish took place in Mnihla, close to the capital Tunis, after protesters gathered near the president’s residency, prompting security forces to intervene.

The NSFT coalition - founded in May 2022 - said that security forces and Saied’s supporters prevented the gathering and forced them to leave the area.

Protesters raised slogans such as "Down with the coup!" – in reference to Saied’s 2021 power grab - "Down with Kais Saied" and "The people want what you don’t want".

Former health minister Abdellatif Al-Mekki blamed Saied for the confrontation, saying he "suppresses freedoms by preventing the Mnihla demonstration, and relies on militias that attack these freedoms."

Al-Mekki added: "[Saied] does not have any solutions for the country, and we are steadfast until our last breath until the coup is overthrown."

Since its founding in May last year, the NSFT has held many protests calling on Saied to step down.

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In a separate event, members of Tunisia’s "Citizens Against the Coup" movement unanimously agreed on Sunday that the only way out of Tunisia’s crisis was to overthrow the "July 25 coup" and return to the 2014 constitution.

The statement was made after a dialogue session where participants stressed the need to save the country before it descends into chaos.

They warned against excluding political parties from the political process, which has largely been overtaken by Saied since his 2021 decision to seize powers.

"Today we live in real danger which necessitates a rescue [mission] and this is everyone's conviction, therefore everyone is putting forward initiatives," one member of the movement told Arabi21.

After sacking the government and freezing parliament, Saied later moved to seize control of the judiciary and pushed through a custom-made constitution cementing his grip on the executive.

Dozens of his critics have been jailed and a number of media outlets have been shut.

Saied’s new constitution – replacing the 2014 statute written following Tunisia’s 2011 revolution which ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali – has given Saied far greater powers, and has been blasted by rights group.

Saied and his supporters have said the political system had to change to save Tunisia from years of stagnation and political paralysis and have defended the process by which he passed the constitution.

The North African country also faces difficult economic challenges, where citizens are faced with spiralling inflation and rising unemployment.

The unprecedented economic and financial crisis has pushed hundreds of Tunisians to join African migrants in making the dangerous boat journey across the Mediterranean to reach Europe.