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Tunisia: Opposition leader denounces Kais Saied's 'destructive' policies

Ghazi al-Shawashi, secretary general of the Democratic Current party, promises protests to oppose president's ongoing power grab
Tunisian demonstrators protest in front of parliament against President Kais Saied's seizure of governing powers, in the capital Tunis, on 14 November 2021 (AFP)

The leader of a major political party in Tunisia has hit out at President Kais Saied and his "destructive" policies, despite previously supporting his 25 July power grab.

Ghazi al-Shawashi, the secretary general of the Democratic Current party, said in a radio interview on Thursday that Saied was "no longer capable of saving the country" and went too far after his move to freeze parliament, then suspend parts of the constitution and install rule by decree in September.

Shawashi said the country was in a state of "complete crisis and isolation as a result of Kais Saied's destructive policies" and that the only result of five months of extraordinary measures in Tunisia had been the president "tampering with the people and state".

Since July, Saied's "exceptional measures" have been rejected by the majority of the country's political forces, who viewed the president's actions as a "coup against the constitution" and a means of undermining the democratic gains made after the 2011 uprising that ended the rule of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Saied has justified his actions as necessary to save Tunisia from "imminent peril" amid a socio-economic crisis aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic and widespread anger at the country's political parties.

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Despite initially supporting Saied's actions in July, the Democratic Current party reversed course in early September, announcing a coalition with three other parties to oppose Saied's attempt to assume more government powers.

While the Democratic Current party expressed an openness to "discussions with the president" in September, Shawashi stressed that the country could not "continue for another month in this condition, on the verge of bankruptcy".

He said a coalition of political parties, civil society organisations and unions would oppose the president in order to "prevent further tampering".

"A movement will soon begin that will serve as a counterweight to Kais Saied's absurdity. It will include participants such as Ettakatol, the Republican party, prominent national figures, and democratic civil society," he said.

He said they would begin actively resisting Saied's actions on 17 December - the anniversary of the beginning of the 2011 uprising - and that ongoing discussions between groups had ensured that all means were "available to defend democracy".

The demonstration is set to coincide with another protest planned for 17 December by the Citizens Against the Coup movement, led by constitutional law professor Jawhar Bin Muburak.

Protests and counter-protests have been a regular occurence in Tunisia since July, with demonstrators facing off over the validity and necessity of Saied's power grab.

On Friday, the president hinted at suspending the 2014 constitution and the possibility of dissolving and reformulating the Supreme Judicial Council through executive orders. 

According to Shawashi, this would constitute "blatant interference and infringement of the judiciary." 

"The president possesses no authority to dissolve the council - it is a self-contained and autonomous authority."