Tunisia’s Ennahdha urges Friday protests, defying COVID-19 ban

Map of Tunisia

Tunisia’s Ennahdha party has reiterated calls for demonstrations on Friday marking the anniversary of the country’s revolution, defying tightened coronavirus restrictions it says are politically motivated.

Ennahdha is the biggest party in a parliament that was suspended by President Kais Saied in July 2021 and has staged a string of protests against the premier.

The party had last week called for rallies on Friday to mark the 2011 fall of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in a revolt that sparked copycat uprisings in several Arab countries.

But on Wednesday Saied’s office announced new measures against mounting coronavirus cases, including a nighttime curfew and a ban on public gatherings, starting Thursday evening.

In a statement on Facebook on Thursday morning, Ennahdha accused the government of “utilizing the coronavirus crisis for political ends, targeting what remains of the margin of freedom” in Tunisia.

“Ennahdha calls on all those planning to take part in the January 14 demonstrations to respect health protocols,” it added.

The potential showdown comes amid heightened tensions between the party and Saied after two senior Ennahdha officials including former justice minister Noureddine Bhiri were arrested by plainclothes police officers on December 31 and later accused of possible “terrorism” offences.

Ennahdha said Wednesday that Bhiri, on a hunger strike since his arrest, was “near death”, while a doctor treating him in detention told AFP he was in a “stable condition”.

The party’s call for demonstrations in defiance of the latest coronavirus rules was echoed by left-wing political figure Jawher Ben Mbarek, one of a group calling for opposition to Saied’s “coup d’etat”.