Tunisian police have arrested influential businessman Kamel Eltaief, once a confidant of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, as well as two key political activists, lawyers say.
Eltaief, 68, was arrested from his home in the capital, Tunis, on Saturday, lawyer Nizar Ayed said without providing further details.
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For many Tunisians – especially supporters of the Ennahdha party, fierce rivals of President Kais Saied – Eltaief was seen as a symbol of past corruption in the North African nation.
The influential power broker was involved in the 1987 coup that forced former President Habib Bourguiba from power on medical grounds, and was long considered a crony of Bourguiba’s successor Ben Ali. Eltaief fell out of grace with Ben Ali in 1992 after a feud with his wife Leila Trabelsi.
After the fall of Ben Ali in 2011, the businessman moved closer to the opposition. In 2012, he was investigated for “conspiracy against state security”, but no charges were brought against him and the case was closed in 2014.
Police also arrested Abdelhamid Jelassi, a former senior leader of the Ennahdha, as well as political activist Khayam Turki.
Seven police officers on Saturday evening searched Jelassi’s home and confiscated his mobile phone before arresting him, the party said without providing further details. According to Tunisian media, Jelassi was arrested on “suspicion of a plot against state security”.
Ennahdha, the biggest party in the opposition, said the arrest of Turki was aimed at intimidating the president’s opponents.
The Salvation Front, the main opposition coalition against Saied, condemned his arrest, saying police had questioned him several times for meeting opposition figures at his home.
Turki’s lawyer Abdelaziz Essid, who said his client was not known to be wanted by the authorities, said he was arrested in an early morning police raid.
“He was taken to an unknown destination,” said Essid, adding Turki had not been “facing any legal proceedings” to justify his arrest. No further details were immediately available.
Rights groups have voiced increasing concern over the lack of political freedoms in Tunisia since Saied’s seizure of most powers in 2021 and his moves to assume ultimate authority over the judiciary. Since Saied’s takeover, Tunisia has seen a spike in the arrest and prosecution of politicians, journalists and others.
His opponents have accused him of authoritarianism in the birthplace of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.