Tunisian MP wears crash helmet in parliament after guards banned | Tunisia


A Tunisian MP has taken her seat in parliament wearing a motorcycle crash helmet and a bulletproof vest, in an attention-grabbing gesture after the speaker banned private security guards from all parties, some of whom have been accused of assault.

Abir Moussi, a lawyer and supporter of the autocratic former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who was ousted in Tunisia’s 2011 uprising, is a senior member of the secular Free Destourian party, known by its French acronym PDL.

A photo of Moussi sitting in parliament with a picture of Ben Ali’s predecessor, Habib Bourguiba, in front of her provoked amusement and resignation among Tunisians, who are wearied by the seemingly endless fighting between the parliament’s religious and secular blocs and increasingly concerned by rising cases of Covid-19 and mounting national debt.

Moussi defended the old regime in court after the revolution, which initially led to her being ostracised by her fellow party members and attacked in the street. But in the years since, Tunisia has been plagued by sinking wages, growing joblessness and worsening public services, and as dissatisfaction with the democratic transition and nostalgia for the relative stability and prosperity of the past has grown, she has enjoyed an unlikely rise in popularity.

Such has been her political ascendancy that Moussi and her party now fill the vacuum in Tunisia’s secular politics left by Nidaa Tounes and Qalb Tounes, whose popularity withered after making political deals with the religious Ennahda party.

Several recent polls have confirmed that both PDL and Moussi’s own populist, conspiracy theory-laden platform are popular among voters. Moussi’s personal rankings are second only to president Kais Saied, who secured an overwhelming majority in elections in 2019 after running as an independent on a socially conservative platform.

Moussi has dismissed the revolution that ousted Ben Ali as a foreign plot, called for a return to the style of government favoured by Ben Ali and Bourguiba, and made repeated fiery rejections of political Islamism.

According to analysts such as Youssef Cherif, the head of the Columbia Center in Tunis, such is the degree of polarisation in Tunisia at present that the threat to Moussi from a lone actor is very real. However, Cherif said Moussi’s attire on Tuesday was “quite ridiculous”.

In a country where the meme is king, a startup business offering taxi scooters took just hours to appropriate Moussi’s image and, recasting her helmet in company colours, use it as part of a recruitment drive.



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