In Tunisia, Abir Moussi, the rising opponent

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Abir Moussi, president of the Destourien Libre Party (PDL), makes the sign of victory in front of her supporters during a demonstration against the Islamo-conservative party Ennahda organized by the PDL, in Tunis, on June 19, 2021.

In March 2011, a few months after the Tunisian revolution, a woman in a lawyer dress stood upright at the bar of the Tunis court. Abir Moussi, then Deputy Secretary General in charge of women at the Democratic Constitutional Assembly (RCD), the party of ex-autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, pleads for the non-dissolution of this political force. A positioning against the tide of a majority of the population, eager for change and for whom the RCD embodies the years of dictatorship. Booed by his colleagues, Abir Moussi must leave the room under police escort. The party is dissolved by justice.

Ten years later, the hatred of the old regime is less strong in a Tunisia won by revolutionary disillusion and the economic crisis. And the media strategy like the outspokenness of Abir Moussi made him one of the main opponents of President Kaïs Saïed. The lawyer, in the meantime, has become a deputy: in the legislative elections of 2019, the Free Destourien Party (PDL), which she chairs, an anti-Islamist formation bringing together sympathizers of the former RCD but also those nostalgic for the father of independence, Habib Bourguiba, won 17 seats out of 217.

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At 46, she remains true to her credo: “Never have returned my jacket, unlike other parties. ” And now, it is Kaïs Saïed that she attacks, accusing him of wanting “To grab absolute power” since the emergency regime established at the end of July, when the Head of State suspended the work of the Assembly of People’s Representatives (ARP). Five months later, Tunisia remains ruled by decrees and the parliamentary freeze has been extended until legislative elections set for December 2022. The deadline is far away, but, for now, Abir Moussi is in the lead in the polls, his party collecting more than 36% of the voting intentions.

His strategy: occupy the field

His speech resolutely hostile to political Islam and his eloquence are attracting more and more Tunisians. It finds its first supporters among those nostalgic for the RCD and detractors of the Islamo-conservative Ennahda party, who blame this group for having dominated the political landscape during the last decade for the failure of the country’s economic transition.

For several months, the member has also challenged the undecided. They are numerous in Tunisia, oscillating between support for Kaïs Saïed and the fear of an autocratic drift. In July, the president’s gesture of authority in the face of declining political parties had been greeted by scenes of popular jubilation, but the extension of the state of emergency and the worsening of the economic crisis began to feed the worries.

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Abir Moussi is poles apart from the solemn and enigmatic figure of Kaïs Saïed. Every day, she speaks to her supporters through videos broadcast live on her Facebook page. In it, she describes the popular uprising of 2011 as foreign manipulation aimed at “Put the Muslim Brotherhood in power”, in reference to Ennahda. “Today, Tunisians no longer want the cliché of the revolution, they expect concrete things, such as improving purchasing power”, hammers the politician in her office, where she answered questions from World.

Its strategy is to constantly occupy the political field and to counter its adversaries on the legal level. It carries out sit-ins in front of the headquarters of the Union of Muslim Ulemas, an association linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. The MP calls for the organization to be classified as “Terrorist” for his extremist ideas and denounces his proximity to Ennahda.

The muscular arrest, Friday, December 31, 2021, of the deputy and vice-president of the Islamo-conservative party Noureddine Bhiri, arrested in connection with a case related to the “Terrorism” according to the Ministry of the Interior, is blessed bread for the opponent. Tuesday, January 4, she called for dismantling “The octopus of the Muslim Brotherhood” and demanded that the head of Ennahda and president of the ARP, Rached Ghannouchi, “Involved in terrorism”, is also placed under house arrest.

Megaphone and bulletproof vest

It is moreover through his memorable interventions within the ARP that most Tunisians got to know Abir Moussi. When the hemicycle was still meeting, she obstructed, shouting into a megaphone “Because we don’t [lui] not let [son] speaking time “. She also arrived several times wearing a bulletproof vest and helmet, saying to herself “Threatened”. In fact, she was physically attacked on several occasions by members of the ultraconservative coalition Al-Karama, without the president of the ARP taking any sanctions.

Critics of Abir Moussi believe that his methods, by blocking the work of Parliament, have contributed to the degradation of the image of the parties in public opinion. And facilitated, by ricochet, the coup de force of Kaïs Saïed. The member justifies herself by showing large binders filled with correspondence and complaints made during the two parliamentary years, without reaction from the justice system or from her fellow deputies. “I expressed myself as best I could”, she says.

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The chosen one is unable to “Self-criticize”, deplores Amira Aleya Sghaier, historian of the Tunisian left. According to this sympathizer of the PDL, the stubbornness of the deputy on certain subjects is her Achilles heel. “Even if Tunisia has never produced a politician of this ilk, it cannot continue to deny the revolutionary process just like the real acts of torture which took place under Bourguiba and Ben Ali. She could even gain credibility by speaking frankly about these issues ”, he believes.

Others accuse the opponent of a certain ” personality cult “, rarely leaving the floor to other members of his party. Known for leading with an iron fist the deputies of her parliamentary group, Abir Moussi believes for her part to be open to other forces ” progressive “, which go from left to center. She theirs proposed to sign a political document, his draft “Revolution to enlighten the Tunisian people”, with the express condition of not supporting political Islam. But its radicalism scares possible allies.

Whatever, the member stands on her line. She now accuses Kaïs Saïed and Ennahda of maintaining political and ideological links, ignoring the manifest hostility that opposes the Islamo-conservative party to the president.

Offer a credible economic alternative

If Abir Moussi still drains, in the eyes of some, the reminiscences of a painful past, she herself assures, supported by the draft Constitution, only wanting to offer Tunisians a democratic choice that respects rights and freedoms. Today, she claims more of Habib Bourguiba, in power from 1957 to 1987. A heritage more acceptable in the collective memory than that of the Ben Ali years. She also manages to attract the favor of a female electorate sensitive to her defending speech. “The achievements of the Tunisian woman”.

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But to strengthen its stature, its main challenge is to provide a credible economic alternative where many have failed. His party has been working for four years on a program that promotes entrepreneurship, public-private partnerships and the redistribution of the territory to achieve the development of Tunisia from the inside, now marginalized. Abir Moussi continues to point the finger at the deterioration of all the country’s economic indicators and tries to glean the support of the social partners, in particular the powerful trade union center Union générale tunisienne du travail.

Above all, it will have to respond to a dilemma: its trademark “one against all” is a pledge of credibility for its electoral base, but prevents it from making the PDL a big party. A step that cannot be ignored if it aspires to reach the highest positions.

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In Tunisia, Abir Moussi, the rising opponent