Tunisia rights groups back 10-day hunger strike against President Kais Saied

Politicians and members of the suspended parliament fear country is sliding back to authoritarianism

President Kais Saied is facing pressure to rescind his new political system that consolidates power in his hands. Photo: Tunisian Presidency Facebook page/AFP
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Politicians on hunger strike in Tunisia have received support from the country's civil rights groups, as their protest against the president’s rule by decree entered its 10th day.

Human rights and civil organisations on Saturday urged the international community to put pressure on President Kais Saied to rescind his new political system that consolidates power in his hands.

“We are against any kind of rule by force and the hunger strike is the ultimate struggle option in protest against the authoritarian rule of the president after the coup he carried out on July 25, 2021, as he suspended parliament and sacked the prime minister,” said the organisations.

mong the signatories are bodies representing the country’s influential civil and political rights groups, including the Committee for the Respect of Liberties and Human Rights in Tunisia and the Tunisian Organisation Against Torture.

The hunger strike started on December 23 with an initiative from Citizens Against the Coup, an alliance of politicians from leftist, liberal and Islamist parties of different political ideologies.

The alliance was formed in protest against what they consider a power grab and populist approach by the president. The groups are calling for early presidential and legislative elections in the second half of this year.

Mr Saied, who won in democratic elections in 2019 with a landslide 73 per cent of votes, argues that his recent decisions are intended to save the country from corruption and political chaos after more than 10 successive governments since the 2011 ousting of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in an uprising.

His office could not be reached for comment.

Faiza Bouhlel, member of parliament for Ennahdha party, shows the victory symbol while she takes part in a hunger strike against the president. Photo: AFP

The rights groups voiced grave concern at the deteriorating health conditions of some of the strikers, who rejected pleas from family members to resume eating.

The family of Ezzedine El Hazki, a member of the group, said he was seriously ill and was taken to the Charles Nicolle hospital in the capital Tunis last Monday.

“The doctors have decided to keep my father under supervision. He’s in high spirits despite everything,” his son Jaouhar Ben Mbarek, the group's spokesman, wrote on his Facebook page.

قرّر الفريق الطبّي بمستشفى شارنيكول الإحتفاظ بوالدي عزالدين الحزقي الناطق الرسمي باسم المضربين عن الطعام. معنوياته مرتفعة جدا رغم كلّ شي.

Posted by Jaouhar Ben Mbarek on Monday, December 27, 2021

Mr El Hazki is a veteran leftist politician and one of the vocal critics of the incumbent president. He was imprisoned during the two regimes of Ben Ali and Habib Bourguiba. The charges centred around undermining national security and were described by critics as vague and aimed at quelling dissent.

Mr Saied's critics also include former president Moncef Marzouki, who was sentenced in absentia last month to four years in prison for "undermining the security of the state from abroad" and of causing "diplomatic harm". Mr Marzouki left Tunisia several months ago and currently lives in Paris.

There are fears the lingering political crisis will worsen the north African country's ailing economy, compounding the damage caused by the pandemic and suffered over the past decade as successive governments have failed to deliver the promised goals of improving living conditions and creating jobs for youths.

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Updated: January 04, 2022, 8:03 AM