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New Tunisian protest movement takes cue from Egypt

Mohamed Bennour (C), coordinator of the Tunisia Tamarod (rebel) movement, speaks at a news conference in Tunis July 3, 2013. REUTERS/Zoubeir
Mohamed Bennour (C), coordinator of the Tunisia Tamarod (rebel) movement, speaks at a news conference in Tunis July 3, 2013. REUTERS/Zoubeir

By Tarek Amara

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisian opposition activists have launched their own version of Egypt's Tamarud protest movement, whose campaign to remove President Mohamed Mursi drew millions onto the streets and led to an army ultimatum for the Islamist leader to share power.

The youthful, little known leaders of Tunisian Tamarud (Rebel) hope to galvanize opposition to their own Islamist-led government which, like Mursi, came to power after an uprising in 2011 swept an autocratic leader from office.

Like its Egyptian namesake, the Tunisian group accuses the Islamists of trying to usher in a religious state that smothers personal freedoms and failing to drag the economy out of crisis.

Its members said they planned to call for mass protests after quickly gathering the signatures of about 200,000 people opposing the government.

That is a fraction of the 22 million signatures their Egyptian counterparts said they collected against Mursi, but the Tunisian activists believe they can acquire comparable momentum.

Tamarud spokesman Mohamed Bennour said the group aimed to overturn a Constituent Assembly charged with drafting a new constitution, accusing the body of preparing the ground for a religious state. It also wants a new caretaker government.

"Tunisia's young are following in the footsteps of young Egyptians.. We are not satisfied with what is happening in the country, from an attack on freedoms to a bad economic and social situation," Bennour told reporters.

The struggle for power has deepened animosity between Tunisia's Islamists and liberals since the ousting of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in the first Arab Spring uprising.

But the protest group may struggle to have the same impact as Egyptian Tamarud.

Egyptian liberals and secularists accuse Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood of spurning any form of political compromise and forcing through a new constitution to further a project of Islamic rule.

The Brotherhood denies this and accuses its opponents of violating democracy by supporting a military coup against an elected head of state.

But the scale of this week's protests suggests its failure to share real power has helped alienate millions of ordinary Egyptians suffering from the government's economic mismanagement.

In contrast, Tunisia's governing Islamist party Ennahda managed to head off growing street protests and appease secular-minded parties by ushering in a coalition government in March that included several independent ministers.

Ennahda has also accepted that sharia (Islamic law) is not mentioned in Tunisia's new constitution, a demand of secular politicians.

(Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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