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Tunisia’s Islamists under siege as Saied rolls back democracy

Islamists are bearing the brunt of President Kais Saied’s "counter revolution" with their leaders facing possible jail time and little public sympathy, as many view them as the principal architects of the economic woes and political gridlock that has long gripped the country.
Tunisia's Speaker of the Parliament Rached Ghannouchi flashes the victory sign as he arrives for questioning at the judicial police headquarters in the capital Tunis, on April 1, 2022.

TUNIS — On a gray December morning, Noureddine Bhiri and his wife Saida slid into the family car outside their home in Tunis’ El Manar neighborhood. With Saida at the wheel, the middle-aged couple was about to set off for work when four blue Ford SUVs screeched around them, blocking their path. “A group of bearded youths in civilian clothes snatched the car keys out of my wife’s hands and forced us to get out,” Bhiri recalled. The men were armed. “They shoved me into the back of one of the jeeps. I thought to myself, ‘They are Islamic State.’ I was terrified,” Bhiri said.

Bhiri, 64, a senior figure in the Islam-oriented Ennahda party, was held incommunicado for three days in a heavily guarded shack in a forest outside Tunis where the howls of wolves and grunts of wild boar filled the air. “Who are you? Why have you kidnapped me?” he asked his captors repeatedly. He was offered no answer. It wasn’t until he was moved to a state hospital after refusing food and drink that Bhiri, a diabetic, discovered he was under “house arrest” because he posed “a threat to Tunisia’s national security.” His ordeal lasted 64 days.

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