Eltaief, once a confidant of former President Ben Ali, and two key political activists were detained.
Tunisian police have arrested influential businessman Kamel Eltaief, a former confidant of former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, as well as two key political activists, lawyers say.
Eltaief, 68, was arrested Saturday at his home in the capital Tunis, lawyer Nizar Ayed said without giving further details.
For many Tunisians – especially supporters of the Ennahdha party, a fierce rival of President Kais Saied – Eltaief was seen as a symbol of the North African nation’s past corruption.
The influential powerbroker was involved in the 1987 coup that forced former president Habib Bourguiba out of power due to health reasons, and was long considered a friend of Bourguiba’s successor, Ben Ali. Eltaief fell out of favor with Ben Ali in 1992 after an argument with his wife Leila Trabelsi.
After the fall of Ben Ali in 2011, the businessman moved closer to the opposition. In 2012, an investigation was launched against him for “conspiracy against state security”, but no indictment was brought against him and the case was closed in 2014.
Police also arrested Abdelhamid Jelassi, a former senior Ennahdha leader, as well as political activist Khayam Turki.
Seven police officers searched Jelassi’s home on Saturday night and confiscated his mobile phone before arresting him, the party said without further details. According to Tunisian media, Jelassi was arrested on “suspicion of conspiracy against state security”.
Ennahdha, the main opposition party, said Turki’s arrest was aimed at intimidating the president’s opponents.
The Salvation Front, the main opposition coalition against Saied, condemned his arrest, saying police questioned him several times over meetings with opposition figures at his home.
Turki’s lawyer, Abdelaziz Essid, who said authorities were not known to be looking for his client, said he was arrested in an early morning police raid.
“He was taken to an unknown destination,” Essid said, adding that Turki had not “faced legal proceedings” to justify his arrest. No further details are available at this time.
Human rights groups have expressed growing concern over the lack of political freedoms in Tunisia since Saied assumed most of the powers in 2021 and his moves to take ultimate control over the judiciary. Since Saied took power, Tunisia has seen a sharp increase in arrests and prosecutions of politicians, journalists and others.
His opponents accused him of authoritarianism in the birthplace of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.