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Islamist chief warns of social explosion after Kaïs Saïed's 'coup'

Veteran leader of the Ennahda party Ghannouchi has allied with other opposition factions against the President

At an online meeting on 27 January with members of parliament, which has been suspended since last July, Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi struck a defiant posture against President Kaïs Saïed's attempt to rule by fiat and rewrite the constitution.

Ghannouchi said Saïed's assumption of executive powers amounted to a coup which was leading to a 'stifling international isolation … price inflation and a social situation that threatens to explode…'

The MPs were marking the anniversary of the signing of the democratic constitution in 2014, which Saïed wants to rewrite and blames for a political logjam in the country. The cross-party meeting showed a growing determination among the parties to take on the President, who had initially enjoyed a wave of popularity last year for cracking down on unpopular politicians and promising to get government working again.

Instead, he has presided over a further decline in the state's finances but has been unable to implement reforms that could secure more investment to bolster the faltering economy. Foreign governments are withholding support, partly because of Saïed's autocratic style. 

In Tunis, unemployment is running at about 18% and over 30% in the poorer south, the crucible of the revolution that led to the overthrow of President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

Opposition parties are now working together with civil society. 'Citizens against the Coup', a cross-party group including Qalb Tounes ('Heart of Tunisia') and Ennahda, wants to launch protests and a united political front against the President. 

Saïed aims to use a digital consultation, launched last month, to change the constitution in a referendum due in July. Some 100,000 citizens have taken part so far. But the process is heavily controlled and the President looks set to decide which submissions are accepted. His high-handed governing style has moved public sentiment against him (AC Vol 62 No 17, Playing the waiting game). 

Opposition activists say that, with political parties effectively proscribed and other political rights suppressed, Tunisia is moving back to the pre-2011 police state.

Saïed has bolstered the Ministry of the Interior, which has stepped up arrests of protestors and detained opposition officials. More than a dozen people arrested at protests against on 15 January are still in prison without access to legal representation.

Ennahda's Former Justice minister Nourredine Bhairi remains in hospital after going on hunger strike in prison (AC Vol 63 No 1, Rough seas for despot and demos). Opposition officials say that Bhairi has not been charged but has been unable to see his family or a lawyer.

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