Experts and family members of those arrested say that the North African country is no longer a success story of the Arab Spring.
London, England – After the Arab Spring protests in the early 2010s, Tunisia experienced a short spell of democracy.
But that changed in July 2021 when President Kais Saied froze parliament and dismissed the government in a dramatic move.
Since then, the North African country has seen a sharp crackdown on opposition leaders, critics and activists.
Since February of this year, more than 20 people – including opposition politicians, journalists and business figures – have been arrested under various charges such as “planning against state security” and “terrorism” .
Among those arrested are Rached Ghannouchi, head of the Islamist Ennahdha party, its member Said Ferjani, and prominent radio journalist Zied el-Heni, who many believe coined the term “Jasmine Revolution”.
While freedom of speech and media were critical gains for Tunisians after the Arab Spring revolution that led to the overthrow of former leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, activists and journalists say those freedoms are under threat. under the command of Saied.
Speaking at a forum in London on post-Arab Spring Tunisia on Friday, Maha Azzam, head of Egypt’s revolutionary council, said, “Tunisians and Arabs have known nothing but oppression for decades without a brief respite from the Arab Spring.”
Azzam said what happened in Tunisia is not different from other post-revolution countries where vested interests evade political responsibility in a regime of oppression.
“The Arab Spring is round one. It’s an intifada if you will. It’s an uprising, it’s an incomplete revolution, but there are other cycles like other revolutions. It’s peaceful, and I hope it stays peaceful,” he said.
Soumaya Ghannouchi, daughter of the imprisoned Ennahdha chief, said Saied “robbed Tunisians of the freedoms they won”.
“You are persecuted by your sick suspicion, your power, your greed, your fear. Ghannouchi haunts you,” he said in a message to the president of Tunisia. “Try as you may, you cannot lock Ghannouchi. You are the prisoner, not him.”
Soumaya added: “He [Saied] given to them [Tunisians] not only the dictatorship but also the poverty and bankruptcy of the state.”
Tunisia’s economic crisis has been exacerbated by stalled talks with the International Monetary Fund for a $1.9bn loan. Without debt, the country faces a severe payment crisis.
Opposition parties said Saied’s action against opposition leaders was politically motivated as they called on the authorities to release political prisoners.
But Saied charged that those imprisoned were “terrorists, criminals and traitors”, and the judges who released them would endorse their alleged crimes.
Kaouther Ferjani, daughter of jailed politician Said Ferjani, said when her family asked a judge why her father was in prison, the judge replied, “Me or him.”
“My father in prison said that we have moved from the independence of the judiciary to the use and abuse of the judiciary,” he said.