file photo: tunisian president kais saied takes the oath of office in tunis

Tunisians disobey the government’s ban on social gatherings

 Tunisia Tunisia – On Friday, Tunisian police fired tear gas and water cannons at hundreds of demonstrators who defied a prohibition on public meetings to protest President Kais Saied‘s power grab in July. Hundreds of Saied’s opponents rallied against his July 2021 move as the country marked 11 years since the demise of late tyrant Ben Ali.

Despite limitations established on Thursday, ostensibly to prevent the spread of the coronavirus epidemic, they had congregated. Around 300 protestors gathered on Mohamed V Avenue, where some managed to break through a police barrier before being pushed back by officers with batons. Security personnel were deployed aggressively to prevent them from reaching downtown Habib Bourguiba Avenue and the Interior Ministry buildings, where Ben Ali had fled to Saudi Arabia after massive protests in early 2011.

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On Friday, several protestors screamed “Down with the coup!” in reference to Saied’s July 25 actions, which included sacking the government, freezing parliament, and seizing a variety of authorities. To the chagrin of his opponents, particularly the powerful Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, he has effectively ruled by decree since then. Some Tunisians cheered his efforts, as they were tired of the ineffective and graft-ridden parliamentary system.

For Ennahdha followers, though, they are evocative of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi‘s campaign against the Islamist opposition, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people in 2013 and the imprisonment of thousands more since then. “You’re working for Sisi and the UAE!” one woman exclaimed to a police officer. Despite a slew of new regulations, including a nighttime curfew and a ban on public meetings, enacted on Thursday evening to combat a sharp surge in coronavirus infections, the protests continued. According to Ennahdha, the measures are politically motivated.