(Bloomberg) -- Tunisia’s president vowed a “relentless war” against those he claimed were damaging the country, signaling a possible escalation in the crackdown against opponents shortly after the detention of his most vocal critic. 

Kais Saied’s comments followed the detention late Monday of former parliamentary speaker Rashid Ghannouchi, the leader of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party that dominated Tunisia politics after the 2011 revolution. The moves threaten to inject further uncertainty into the North Africa nation’s tumultous politics just as authorities struggle to revive the economy.

“We wage a relentless war against anyone who seeks to hit the state, its institutions, to hit the homeland because they are no patriots,” Saied said Tuesday in video remarks published by his office. He urged the judiciary to not disappoint “the expectations of the Tunisian people and the expectations of history to build a new history for Tunisia,” without elaborating.

After Ghannouchi’s arrest, authorities detained three other Ennahda party officials and banned all meetings at the group’s offices, as well as those of the National Salvation Front. The NSF is a coalition of Ennahda and secular parties that has been peacefully pushing for a restoration of the democratic order since Saied in July 2021 seized wide-ranging powers in a move critics dubbed a coup. 

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Ghannouchi has previously been questioned by authorities without being detained. The latest move was linked to allegations of incitement stemming from remarks he made during a meeting with NSF members earlier this month. Ghannouchi was filmed accusing Saied of being a tyrant and his supporters of working to sow the seeds of civil war.

The drama likely spells more trouble for Tunisia, which gave rise to the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions but has seen its economy limp along since amid political deadlock. An International Monetary Fund lifeline that the central bank has called crucial has been repeatedly delayed, with Saied appearing reluctant to endorse wide-ranging reforms needed before a final agreement can be struck.

The arrests are a risky escalation following Saied’s “steady march toward dictatorial consolidation,” said Monica Marks, a professor of Middle East Politics at NYU Abu Dhabi. 

“Its a full-frontal assault on political participation at large” that could lead to greater social instability and spook investors, she said.

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