In Tunisia, opponent Abir Moussi placed “in the same bag as the Islamists”

Until then spared despite her harsh criticism of President Kaïs Saïed, Abir Moussi ended up joining the twenty opponents already imprisoned in Tunisia

In Tunisia, opponent Abir Moussi placed “in the same bag as the Islamists”

Until then spared despite her harsh criticism of President Kaïs Saïed, Abir Moussi ended up joining the twenty opponents already imprisoned in Tunisia. At the end of forty-eight hours in police custody, the investigating judge decided to place her in pre-trial detention on Thursday October 5.

Arrested Tuesday near the presidential palace of Carthage while trying to file an appeal against the holding of local elections scheduled for December, Abir Moussi, lawyer and president of the Free Destourian Party (PDL), an anti-Islamist group bringing together supporters of the former regime of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali but also those nostalgic for the father of independence, Habib Bourguiba, is notably accused of "an attack aimed at changing the form of government, to encourage people to arm against each other or to provoke disorder, murder or pillage in the territory,” under Article 72 of the Tunisian Penal Code. She faces the death penalty.

The same article was used against several opponents still imprisoned, such as Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of the Islamo-conservative Ennahda party. “Pro-regime Facebook pages circulated the decision even before the judge issued the committal warrant. For me, there is no doubt that this decision was taken in advance,” lawyer Nafaa Laribi told Le Monde. His client, he said, would have reacted with “a lot of courage and humility, despite some health concerns linked to the conditions of her detention”.

“Rattle ground”

Reckless and a bit provocative, this 48-year-old lawyer, former deputy secretary general in charge of women within the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), Ben Ali's former party, stood out for her spectacular methods. After her election in 2019 to the Assembly, she appeared there wearing a bulletproof vest or helmet. She increased the number of sit-ins, diatribes and altercations with other deputies.

A fierce opponent of the Islamists, she managed to bring together disappointed people from Nidaa Tounes, the party of former President Béji Caïd Essebsi, to get elected, after the latter allied himself with Ennahda in 2014. The speeches and meetings of this tireless orator often takes on the air of a “one woman show”, with long, fast-paced monologues, punctuated with anecdotes and jokes.

Through her methods, the president of the PDL has contributed to weakening Islamists already weakened by unstable government majorities and by the health and economic crisis linked to Covid-19. “She played the card of denigrating democracy and its institutions by making Parliament a free-for-all,” points out Hamza Meddeb, researcher at the Carnegie Middle East Center think tank.

Powerless in the face of incessant blockages in the Assembly then chaired by Rached Ghannouchi, Ennahda called in July 2020 on Kaïs Saïed to involve the presidential guard in order to restore order. In vain. The scenes of verbal and physical violence then served as an argument for the Tunisian president to justify the use of the state of exception and the suspension of the work of the Assembly on July 25, 2021.

The day after this coup, Abir Moussi asserted that he did not want to upset “popular joy” and took the opportunity to call for the dismantling of the “Brotherhood octopus” – an allusion to the Muslim Brotherhood – which would have infiltrated the country's institutions. since the revolution.

Sovereignist leanings

But while his party was at the top of the polls in 2021, driven by its fight against Ennahda – whose ban he advocates – Abir Moussi was quickly destabilized by the policy led by Kaïs Saïed. Part of the opposition accuses her of being an objective ally of the head of state, whose aversion to the Islamists and the post-2011 democratic transition process she shares.

With her authoritarian speeches, her sovereignist leanings, her stated preferences for a presidentialist regime and her conservative positions on gender equality in inheritance or homosexuality, the themes she promotes are significantly similar to those of the tenant of the palace of Carthage.

But “ultimately, it is Kaïs Saïed who reaped the fruits of the war of attrition that she has waged since 2019, by aggregating several types of anti-corruption, anti-Islamist voters,” analyzes Hamza Meddeb, who specifies however that “if this situation lasts, he may come out a loser, because a good part of Abir Moussi's supporters will say to themselves: “He is putting us in the same bag as the Islamists.” »

Before joining the list of imprisoned opponents, the one who denounces a president who “governs alone and as he pleases” tried to deal with different themes, to propose alternatives to the economic crisis, in order to distance himself from the politics of Kaïs Saïed, whom she accuses of being a “usurper” in his fight against the Islamists or of wanting to dismantle the state built by Bourguiba.

Losing momentum in public opinion, Abir Moussi has once again made the headlines in the media since his arrest and has acquired a new status, that of a victim of the repression of the Tunisian authorities... like his lifelong adversaries, the Islamists of Ennahda .