Tunisian Security Forces Arrest Ennahda Deputy Head Noureddine Bhiri

Tunisian Security Forces Arrest Ennahda Deputy Head Noureddine Bhiri (News Central TV)

Tunisia’s Ennahda party said on Friday that state security forces have arrested its deputy head, Noureddine Bhiri.

The party condemned in strong terms, the arrest of Noureddine Bhiri, a former justice minister and deputy president of the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha, as a “dangerous precedent”.

Samir Dilou, a lawyer and former legislator said “Plain clothes agents in two cars arrested Noureddine Bhiri when he was leaving home with his wife”

Tunisia was the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring revolts of a decade ago but civil society groups and Saied’s opponents have expressed concerns over slide back to totalitarianism a decade after the revolution that toppled longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

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Bhiri, 63, is a lawyer and was serving in the now-suspended parliament. Between 2011-2013 he was minister of justice. The speaker of the parliament is Rached Ghannouchi, Ennahda’s leader.

Saied on July 25 sacked the Ennahdha-supported government and suspended parliament, presenting himself as the ultimate interpreter of the constitution.

Tunisian Ennahdha Party leader Rached Ghannouchi with Party's vice-president Abdelfattah Mourou
Tunisian Islamist Ennahdha Party leader Rached Ghannouchi (R) attends with Party’s vice-president Abdelfattah Mourou the opening of Ennahdha’s three-day congress on May 20, 2016 in Tunis. – Thousands of people attend the opening ceremony of the congress, the first one since 2012, held at a sports complex in Rades, south of the capital Tunis, amid heavy police security. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP)

He later took steps to rule by decree, and in early December vowed to press on with reforms to the political space.

The former law professor announced an 11-week “popular consultation” to produce “draft constitutional and other reforms” ahead of a referendum next July 25.

His opponents have denounced a “coup” and warned against what they see as Saied’s wish to settle scores with those he has called “enemies” but never names.

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Agents also seized the mobile phone of Bhiri’s wife Saida Akremi, who is a lawyer. No official source was available to give reasons for the arrest.

Tunisia’s President Kais Saied, center, leads a security meeting with members of the army and police forces in Tunis, Tunisia, Sunday, July 25, 2021. Troops surrounded Tunisia’s parliament and blocked its speaker Rached Ghannouchi from entering Monday after the president suspended the legislature and fired the prime minister following nationwide protests over the country’s economic troubles and the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. (AP Photo/Slim Abid)

In a statement, Ennahdha said that Bhiri was being questioned by authorities and denounced “a kidnapping and dangerous precedent marking the country’s entry into a tunnel to dictatorship.”

Ennahdha was the largest party in the legislature suspended by Saied. But political rivalries had blocked ministerial appointments and diverted resources from tackling Tunisia’s mounting economic and social problems, leading many in the country to initially welcome the president’s power grab.

A Tunisian court last week sentenced in absentia exiled former president Moncef Marzouki, a fierce critic of President Saied, to four years in prison.

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