More than 5,000 Tunisians demonstrated Sunday against a presidential takeover in the only democracy that emerged from the Arab Spring uprisings a decade ago.
Despite protesters’ checkpoints and security checks, it was the largest in a series of Sunday demonstrations in central Tunisia, both for and against the actions of President Kais Saied.
On July 25, after months of political stalemate, Saied fired the prime minister, suspended parliament and granted himself judicial powers, a move that followed in September with measures that effectively allow the president to rule by decree.
A police source said that at least 3,000 had gathered at the start of the rally and the crowd was still growing. Witnesses later said that more than 5,000 people were flowing into Bourguiba Avenue, the main thoroughfare in central Tunis.
The size of Sunday’s demonstration exceeded that of about 2,000 who demonstrated against Saied’s “coup” two weeks earlier on Bourguiba avenue.
On October 3, approximately 3,000 people demonstrated on the same avenue in support of the president, and local media reported that around 2,000 pro-Saied supporters demonstrated in other parts of the North African country.
It wouldn’t be Sunday without a protest.
Opponents of the July 25 demonstration for the power of President Saied in central Tunis. #Tunis pic.twitter.com/ATCsLQdMNL
– Simon S. Cordall (@IgnitionUK) October 10, 2021
“The people against the coup”, “Raise your voice, the revolution is not dead,” shouted the anti-Saied protesters, waving red and white Tunisian flags.
Many identified themselves as supporters of the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, which was the largest in the now-suspended parliament.
Some complained to AFP about alleged police intimidation to prevent them from advancing.
Helmeted and black-clad riot police were deployed, and protesters were banned from entering a section of Bourguiba Avenue.
# Tunisia witnesses the largest demonstration in history despite the # police blockade and harassment of protesters while Tunisian anti-coup, pro-democracy activists, demonstrate in Tunis against the president. # The illegal and unconstitutional takeover of Saied. # TunisiaCoup #Democracy # تونس # مواطنون_ضد_الانقلاب pic.twitter.com/hYWAKRm3IT
– Mourad TEYEB (مــراد التـائـب) (@MouradTeyeb) October 10, 2021
“The demonstration is blocked” and “what a shame,” shouted a voice from the crowd.
Tunisia was the birthplace of the Arab Spring uprisings, with the resignation of the country’s dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, in January 2011.
Although Saied’s July measures enjoyed significant public support, civil society groups have warned of a shift away from democracy.