Tunisians take to the streets in support of Kais Saied

After two weekends of anti-Saied protests, the president's supporters strike back

Thousands of supporters of Tunisian President Kais Saied rallied in the capital on Sunday to back his suspension of parliament and promises to change the political system – acts his critics have called a coup.

The rally on the steps of the National Theatre was called in response to demonstrations against the president held on the previous two weekends. Last Sunday protesters crowded the capital's main avenue, calling on Mr Saied to go.

Demonstrators on Sunday brandished photographs of the president and raised banners with slogans critical of the country's parliament: "A corrupt parliament = a corrupt democracy" and "No to the resumption of parliament!"

They chanted slogans against the Speaker of Parliament, Rached Ghannouchi, who leads the country's largest party, Ennahda.

After two months without a legislative branch of government, Mr Ghannouchi on Friday called for his fellow MPs to resume their work, despite Mr Saied's recent suspension of their salaries and benefits, a move that essentially sacked the entire body.

The gates of the parliament building, covered in razor wire, remain shut and the security forces guard its perimeter.

Abdel Hak, 35, came from the central city of Sidi Bouzid to join the protests on Sunday. He said he wanted to keep the parliamentary system but with more accountability for MPs.

"I want them to create jobs," he said. "I tried to launch a small project – a cultural coffee shop – but between the bureaucracy and lack of financial support for small business from the government, it failed. I want the parliament to remove those bureaucratic barriers."

Economic discontent, the main grievance of the 2011 revolution, worsened during the pandemic as the country ground to a halt for strict lockdowns without any government support for those struggling financially.

A faltering economy collided with a deadly third wave of coronavirus in July and drove people into the streets. Mr Saied responded with emergency measures and began to rule by decree.

Many of Sunday's protesters said they had not seen the economic results they had longed for in the previous decade, and were hoping Mr Saied would push the country in the right direction.

Jamel, 69, said Mr Saied was off to a good start but felt that the road to economic recovery was a long one.

"People need to be patient," he said. "Kais Saied can't resolve 10 years' worth of problems in just two or even six months – he doesn't have a magic wand."

Mr Saied took what many saw as a positive step towards ending the country's crisis last week when he appointed Najla Bouden Romdhane, a former geology professor, as the country's new prime minister – a post that had been vacant since Mr Saied's consolidation of power in late July.

Although Ms Bouden's role as head of government has been limited by a recent presidential decree, rendering her an assistant to the Mr Saied rather than a check on him, many in Sunday's crowd were enthusiastic about her appointment.

"Kais Saied's decision to choose a woman as PM made me super proud to be a Tunisian woman," said Nadine, 20, a student.

Nadine said she hoped to see more barriers breaking in a new political system. "I want there to be a strong youth presence in the parliament," she said.

Updated: October 3rd 2021, 1:03 PM