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Tunisia's former president 'joins' hunger strike against Saied's 'authoritarian regime'

France-based Moncef Marzouki joins a group of MPs and a citizen campaign in a hunger strike protesting Saied's July power grab
Marzouki
Moncef Marzouki was recently sentenced in absentia to four years in prison, a decision condemned by Citizens against the Coup In a statement announcing the hunger strike (AFP/File photo)

Moncef Marzouki, the former president of Tunisia, announced on Thursday that he would "symbolically" join a hunger strike against the power grab made by President Kais Saied earlier this year.

Marzouki, who served as interim president from 2011 to 2014 as Tunisia emerged from the Arab Spring revolution and Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali autocracy, has emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of Saied's move to seize power in July.

"The coup must end as soon as possible so that the economic machine would work again and Tunisians would not go hungry," Marzouki said in a video posted on Facebook.

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Saied, who was elected in late 2019, sacked the government in a plot leaked to Middle East Eye two months earlier, suspended parliament and assumed exceptional powers on 25 July, citing an "imminent threat" to the country amid a socio-economic crisis aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

On 22 September, he suspended parts of the constitution and installed rule by decree, maintaining full control of the judiciary as well as powers to sack ministers and issue laws.

Earlier this month, he extended the suspension of parliament, announcing that a referendum on constitutional reform would be held in July 2022, followed by parliamentary elections in December.

Marzouki, meanwhile, has become a target for Tunisia's judiciary, and on Wednesday was sentenced in absentia to four years in prison on charges of "assaulting the state's external security".

Marzouki's diplomatic passport had already been withdrawn by Saied, following pubic remarks made by the former president in Paris, where he is currently based.

Speaking to MEE on Thursday, Marzouki said: "The arrest warrant has no value because it was issued not by a court but by a putschist president whom I no longer recognise as the legitimate president of Tunisia."

'Defending freedom'

Marzouki joins a group of MPs, including politicians from the Qalb Tounes party, Ennahdha party and Karama Coalition party, and the Citizens against the Coup campaign, in a hunger strike announced earlier on Thursday.

The protesters are calling for the immediate release of all political prisoners, an end to restrictions on the freedom of press, and a guarantee to the right to protest.

'We announce the beginning of a protest hunger strike, as an advanced form of democratic struggle in the face of an authoritarian regime'

- Citizens against the Coup movement

In a statement announcing the hunger strike, Citizens against the Coup also condemned the decision by Saied's government to sentence Marzouki to four years in prison.

"The democratic forces opposing the coup [have] no choice left but to enter the phase of defending freedom by their own bodies," the group said.

"Therefore, we announce the beginning of a protest hunger strike, as an advanced form of democratic struggle in the face of an authoritarian regime that is using the oppression machine and the state’s institutions to silence all the voices of opposition."

Marzouki further called on Tunisians to take to the streets until 14 January, the anniversary of the revolution in the north African country - Saied announced earlier this month that he would move the official anniversary date to 17 December.