Hundreds protest Tunisia’s draft constitution as vote nears | Political news

Older and younger generations march in Tunis to reject President Kais Saied’s draft constitution, days before a referendum.

Tunis, Tunisia – Hundreds of people gathered in Tunis to protest against a draft constitution proposed by President Kais Saied, two days before a planned referendum on the charter.

The National Salvation Front alliance of opposition groups staged a march in the Tunisian capital on Saturday to reject the president’s program to change the constitution and denounced what they called an undemocratic and illegal process.

Many of the protesters were from the older generation, who had lived under former President Zine Abbedine Ben Ali and taken part in the 2011 revolution that forced him out of office.

Among them was Amna Fehty, an Ennadha supporter who said she was there to “fight for freedom and democracy”.

“We cannot progress or have power in this world under a dictatorship,” she told Al Jazeera.

“I don’t want to see our children live like slaves under a dictator.”

People take part in a protest against President Kais Saied’s draft constitution ahead of a referendum [Zoubeir Souissi/Retuers]

Tension is mounting in the country ahead of the vote, with fears the draft constitution could serve as the basis for a new hyper-presidential system of government.

The referendum comes a year after Saied suspended parliament and sacked the government in what his opponents call a power grab. The president said he was responding to the popular will and saving the country from imminent danger.

He soon began to rule by decree and dismantled some of the country’s democratic state institutions, including the Supreme Judicial Council, while pushing for a new constitution, a draft of which was published last month.

The charter would limit the powers of parliament and the judiciary and enshrine the powers it has accrued over the past year.

A member of the executive committee of the National Salvation Front called Monday’s referendum “a new link in a series of illegal events”.

“We are here to declare for history that we believe this new constitution is completely illegitimate and will continue to respect the 2014 constitution,” Jaohar bin Mbarek told Al Jazeera.

There were also young people among the crowd at Saturday’s rally. They said that Kais Saied is stealing their chance to develop their democracy.

Alabbas Ben Abdennabi, a 22-year-old business student, told Al Jazeera “Kais Saied made a coup, he betrayed the Tunisian people who voted for him… [Saied] wants to be like a sultan.

Ammen Ekalini, a 20-year-old activist, came to the protest with other students and said she was undeterred by the referendum and ready to fight for democracy.

“We want the world to know that we are the generation of democracy,” he told Al Jazeera.

“We know how much our parents suffered under the dictatorship, they were there [on Avenue Habib Bourguiba, Tunis] in 2011 during the revolution. We know that this constitution will pass. It says in section 139 that whether or not it wins, it will be activated.

Duaa Naceur, an 18-year-old high school student, told Al Jazeera: “Saied wants to steal all our rights, but we won’t let him.”

“Our message to the world is: help us rebuild our democracy. We are capable, we can do it.

Saturday’s peaceful rally followed a demonstration the previous evening in which police arrested several protesters and severely beat activists.

Al Jazeera witnessed heavy beatings and the use of pepper spray during Friday’s protest.

The Interior Ministry said protesters initiated the violence against police.

The Tunisian union UGTT condemned the police violence and demanded the release of the detainees and a thorough investigation saying: “We hold the president responsible for this authoritarian deviation”.

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