Last updated on March 10th, 2023 at 08:35 am
At a rally against the government of Tunisia that was held on Saturday and organized by the influential UGTT trade union, which called on President Kaid Said to embrace “dialogue,” more than 3,000 people demonstrated against the government. Since freezing parliament and firing the government in July 2021, Saied has been able to concentrate almost all of the power in his office. This has given him the ability to make big changes to the political system in the Arab Spring’s only democracy.
In the biggest crackdown since the president took power, the police have arrested about twenty important political figures in the past two weeks. Most of those arrested are Saied’s opponents. On Saturday, people marched through Tunis, chanting “Freedom, freedom, down with the police state” and calling for “an end to poverty” in the North African country. Noureddine Taboubi, who is in charge of a powerful union, has said that the president is going after the union as part of a larger plan to silence critics.
Taboubi spoke out against the most recent round of arrests and the jailing of Anis Kaabi, a top UGTT official for highway workers who was taken into custody after a strike by toll barrier workers. Kaabi was arrested in February. Taboubi also condemned Kaabi’s imprisonment. Taboubi vowed to the demonstrators, “We will never tolerate arrests of this nature.”
The UGTT is one of four civil society organizations that was awarded a portion of the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize along with three other organizations. This was for their work in encouraging national dialogue in a country with approximately 12 million people. According to journalists working for AFP, there were more than 3,000 individuals present at the rally.
Taboubi called on Saied to use “dialogue” and “democratic” ways of doing things. He also criticized the president for using “violent discourse” that is dividing the country. Also, the head of the UGTT stood up for “the rights of migrants, no matter where they came from or what color their skin was.” He told the crowd, “Tunisia is a society of tolerance, and we will not tolerate racism.”
Last month, Saied told officials they needed to take “urgent steps” to stop illegal migration. He said that there was “a criminal plot” to change Tunisia’s population, but he didn’t give any proof to back up his claim. About 300 people from West Africa who were living in Tunisia at the time of the rally were getting ready to be deported out of fear that Saied’s words would lead to more violence.
Taboubi was also critical of the negotiations that were taking place between the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Tunisia. Tunisia is having a hard time because of high inflation and debt that is equal to about 80% of its gross domestic product. Taboubi criticized these negotiations (on GDP).
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) may be able to help Tunisia get money as the country tries to get a rescue package from the fund worth nearly two billion dollars. Taboubi stated that the UGTT is not aware of the “details of the proposals” that have been made by the Tunisian authorities. But he stressed that the union is totally against the government taking away subsidies for things like food and gas that people need.