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Tunisia activists say they will keep up pressure on president

August 6, 2021 at 1:20 pm

Tunisians stage a protest demanding the resignation of the government and the dissolution of the parliament in Tunis, Tunisia on 25 July 2021 [Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency]

Sitting on her rooftop in Tunis, political activist Fatma Jgham said she and her comrades backed the Tunisian president’s seizure of governing powers but would maintain pressure on him if their demands were not met, Reuters reports.

“We must hold a referendum on the constitution, and the demands of the people must not be turned around…not by you [the president] or anyone else,” said Jgham, a 48-year old art teacher.

She was one of the people who organised the wave of protests across Tunisian cities on 25 July that were cited by President Kais Saied later that day as he dismissed the prime minister and froze parliament. His opponents have called the moves a coup.

Saied has not given any details of how he plans to handle the crisis or Tunisia’s future.

READ: Tunisia will not have a parliament for months, official says

The demonstrations represented a wave of anger that had built over years of economic stagnation and political dysfunction, sharpened by a COVID-19 surge.

Though the protests were not very big, with hundreds rather than thousands of people braving the sweltering weather in each of the handful of cities where they took place, they also involved several attacks on offices of a major political party.

The moderate Islamist Ennahda, the most consistently successful party since the 2011 revolution that introduced democracy, has played a role in successive coalition governments and is blamed by many Tunisians for their economic problems.

“The demands were the overthrow of the entire failed system of government, especially the parliament, led by the gangs of the Ennahda Party and its coalitions,” Jgham said.

Some Ennahda officials have questioned whether the attacks on their offices were planned by Saied supporters as a pretext for his sudden intervention.

Is Tunisia slipping into a dangerous pitfall?- Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Is Tunisia slipping into a dangerous pitfall?- Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Jgham denies this. “People were angry and marginalised. It wasn’t planned but it was spontaneous,” she said.

The protests that day had not been backed by political parties but were organised by activists like Jgham on social media, she said.

Female activists, like Jgham, have played a prominent role throughout, reflecting Tunisia’s reputation as a leading centre of women’s rights in Arab states.

READ: Tunisia’s president is largely responsible for the disaster that he is trying to fix

Another activist, Emna Sahli, says that the role of women in protests has fundamentally changed. They are no longer led by men, she said.

“Today those who bear ideas are females and this is really great,” said the 35-year-old, who also took part in the July 25 protests.