Analysis-Arrests in Tunisia raise opposition fears of broader crackdown According to Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Tunisia’s President Kais Saied makes a proclamation on coronavirus vaccinations in Brussels, Belgium on February 18, 2022. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/Pool/File Photo

By Angus McDowall and Tarek Amara

TUNIS (Reuters) – The coordinated arrests of political and media figures represent a new phase in Tunisian President Kais Saied’s struggle with a scattered but encouraged opposition that has sparked raised concerns about a broader campaign to quell dissent.

Since Saied closed parliament 18 months ago, shifting to rule by decree before rewriting the constitution, security forces have acted sporadically against opponents who accused him of an undemocratic coup.

Saied has denied a coup, saying his actions were legal and necessary to save Tunisia from chaos. He promised to uphold the rights and freedoms won during the 2011 revolution that brought democracy.

However, the wave of arrests since Saturday represents a new tough move against his critics and an escalation from the pressure campaign that has built up in recent months with the travel ban. and investigation.

Police arrested opposition politicians, an influential businessman, the head of Tunisia’s most important independent press, two judges and an official from a powerful labor union.

While authorities have not yet commented on the arrests, lawyers for some of the detainees said they were charged with conspiring against state security.

A lawyer for Noureddine Boutar, head of Tunisia’s main independent news agency Mosaique FM, said he had been questioned about his radio station’s financial and editorial policies, including how guests were selected. .

Mahdi Jlassi, head of Tunisia’s journalists’ association, said: “What happened is dangerous… The message from the authorities to disobedient journalists is that this will be the fate of the journalists. Friend”.


The arrest comes at a difficult time for Saied.

His ultra-low 11 percent turnout in parliamentary elections under his new political system has been derided by the opposition as proof that the president’s changes lack popular support. they.

UGTT’s powerful labor union has threatened direct action against Saied over his economic plans, his refusal to offer political dialogue and the arrest of one of its officials. senior last month.

Efforts to secure a foreign bailout for state finances have stalled, with rating agencies saying Tunisia is at risk of default even as an economic crisis has stoked state debt. shortage.

Internationally, Tunisia is rarely more isolated, with Western aid curtailed, no sign of Gulf support and a fresh spat last week with its main ally and neighbour. Algerian.

Meanwhile, part of the long-fractured opposition is starting to talk about ways to put aside their old animosities to coordinate action against Saied, leading opposition figure Nejib Chebbi told Reuters.


Saied’s critics fear the arrests mean his fiery rhetoric disparages the enemy as traitors are entangled in tough action facilitated by his own accumulation of power. him – including his takeover of the judiciary last year.

They worry about his apparent moves to bring the military closer to the government, as evident in his appointment of a senior military official as agriculture minister last month.

“The president’s use of military institutions in political life is harmful to the country as well as to the neutrality and high reputation of the military,” Chebbi said.

Critics also cite the administration’s increased use of military courts to hear political cases since Saied came to power in 2021. Previous governments have also used military courts. but less often.

However, analysts and diplomats say there is no sign that the military is actively seeking a political role.

A more immediate concern for the opposition is security forces – the police and other internal agencies responsible for arrests since Saturday.

Many Tunisians still shudder to remember the fear of public criticism, and the abuses faced by dissidents, before the 2011 revolution.

In a statement on Tuesday, the four political parties Attayar, Ettakatol, the Workers’ Party and the Heart of Tunisia, warned that the arrests represent “a dangerous transition from authoritarian populism to regime dictatorial”.

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