Ennahda has lost the battle of the street and has been completely defeated in the field that was previously considered to be its strong point: its capacity for full mobilization. Ennahda has often moved to thwart the popular movements of the democratic opposition by organizing counterprotests. The latter were always marked by total mayhem, except for the one on Aug. 2 at the Kasbah, where the sit-in gathered between 12,000 and 15,000 people. On Aug. 13, while Ennahda barely managed to mobilize 2,000 protesters, the democratic bloc gathered more than 150,000 people in a new display of public strength. Here is the report.
It was 6 p.m. in Bab Saadoun when the protesters — mostly women, but also some men of all ages — started to flood the place. They soon reached a couple thousand in number, announcing a massive rally on the evening of Aug. 13 on the occasion of National Women’s Day. On Aug. 12, websites close to the government announced that the event would not start before 9 p.m., purposefully keeping things unclear.
The Ennahda protest on Habib Bourguiba Avenue started about 4 p.m. It reportedly only gathered some 1,000 to 2,000 people, marking a shy presence, despite the typical mobilization techniques of the ruling party. The significant organization and the numerous deployed buses failed to gather enough legitimate supporters, and the protest turned out to be a flop.
Facing them, in Bab Saadoun, many women of various ages — in addition to some men and children — came to protest, with the national flag in hand. The sefsari [a traditional Tunisian veil] was predominant amid ululations and Tunisian flags, which some women wore as headbands.
The protesters displayed portraits of Chokri Belaid and Mohammed Brahmi, their bodies riddled with bullets, but they also put up photos of former President Habib Bourguiba, while resolutely chanting, “Tunisian women are not Meherzia!” and “We are free and independent.”
Feminist slogans, in addition to other more politicized slogans attacking Rachid Ghannouchi and Ali Laareydh were also chanted by the crowd. Calls to overthrow the government and the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) could be heard as well as slogans such as “Ghannouchi is an assassin,” “After the bloodshed, no more legitimacy,” or even “Leave!”
About 7:15 p.m., as the crowds amassed, early estimates documented more than 100,000 protesters at least. Bardo Square, Boulevard March 20 and neighboring streets were packed with people. Numerous representatives of political parties, members of the opposition as well as international figures — such as Jack Lang, former French minister and member of parliament — and European media outlets were present.
The protesters kept flooding in and at 8 p.m. they reached 150,000. After Aug. 6, Bardo has had the opportunity to welcome a new historic protest with an equally massive crowd. The national anthem was sung with great emotion by the people present. A festive and friendly atmosphere prevailed amid intense patriotic fervor.
The spokeswoman for the “Harayer Touness” [Free Tunisian Women] movement — an organizer of the event — delivered a speech to the crowd, accusing the government of violence and holding them accountable for the current crisis. She called upon the government to “back off,” saying, “We have won, [so] leave! Joy and life are our culture; theirs is a culture of death.”
She called for the improvement of women’s rights and equality between genders. “We are neither secondary nor complementary citizens,” she said. Throughout the speech, the movement insisted “on the will of Tunisian women to carry on with the revolution,” refusing to let it be hijacked.
Among the remarkable speeches of the evening was that of Brahmi’s widow delivered at 8:45 p.m. She reiterated the exact inflammatory words of Sahbi Attig, Ennahda member of parliament, who called for trampling in the streets those who rebelled against legitimacy. However, she responded that unlike his calls to violence, she will not urge Tunisians to clash in the street.
“You are nothing but rats and cowards, but we will not crush you. We will release you so you can clear off,” she said, addressing the government.
“These massive crowds today represent real pride. Our heads are held high and you have made us proud,” she added.
During the protest, Hrayer Tounes honored each one of the 13 female members of parliament who defected from the NCA. The movement was also keen to deny reports that the opposition will conclude a contract with the government on Aug. 14.
The first observations of this historic National Women’s Day show that the authorities no longer believe in this day. Indeed — except for Meherzia Laabidi — no other member of Ennahda, much less the Congress for the Republic, was present at the demonstration held on Habib Bourguiba Avenue.
The Islamist Party and its supporters no longer believe in this day. They would rather cling to the concept of “legitimacy,” which the representatives of the troika never tire of repeating in every intervention.
The democratic and progressive forces that were once known as having “little weight” demonstrated cohesion and determination, because they have continued defending the values of an open, modern and authentic Tunisia.
Observers are now convinced that with every passing day, Tunisians are getting closer to liberation from this transitional phase, which the troika has been seeking to perpetuate.
Liberation, at this time, can only be achieved through the departure of the government of Ali Laarayedh and the advent of a competent authority capable of relieving the country of this impasse and restoring its confidence in the process, which should lead Tunisians to vote for free, democratic and neutral elections.