What could happen next? Implications of Tunisia’s political crisis

Bassem Aly , Tuesday 27 Jul 2021

Saied believes that Tunisia has moved to a parliamentary, multi-party system that “bruises the Tunisian people in terms of food, transportation and health'

Tunisia's President Kais Saied, center, leads a security meeting with members of the army and police forces in Tunis, Tunisia, Sunday, July 25, 2021. AP

A day the Tunisians will remember for a very long time. President Kais Saied made a bundle of decisions on Sunday that are related to the country’s executive, legislative and judicial authorities. As Sarah Yerkes, a senior fellow at Carnegie’s Middle East program, put it, “rumors have been circulated about Saied’s latest measures before he declared them for several weeks.”

Saied decided to lead the public prosecution to be in charge of investigations into “crimes” committed against Tunisia, dismiss premier Hichem Mechichi, suspend the parliament for a month and revoke the immunity of all parliamentarians.

The president will also lead the executive authority and announce a new head of government whose name is yet to be revealed. He also removed the defence ministers and acting justice minister from their posts.

The former law professor unveiled these moves - which he stressed are constitutionally correct - in a televised speech that followed his emergency meeting with security and military leaders.

"We will not remain silent on anyone who insults the state and its symbols, and whoever shoots a single bullet will face a barrage of army bullets," said Saied in his speech.

Saied also ordered a nationwide curfew between 7pm and 6pm from 26 July to 27 August and banned travelling across cities and public gatherings of more than three people.

The consequences of these decisions are arguably the key question that the whole world - needless to say Tunisia’s forces and people themselves - is thinking about. As only 48 hours have passed since Sunday’s events, all options remain possible.

It is worth mentioning that Saied took this direction following a day of anti-Islamist protests in different parts of the country, including the capital Tunis, Nabeul, Sousse, Kairouan, Sfax and Tozeur. A group of protesters then broke into the offices of the Islamist Ennahda Party, which has the largest number of seats in parliament and one of Tunisia’s most successful political forces since its decade-long uprising.

So far, it seems that Saied will face more problems with Ennahda than with Mechichi.

Mechichi issued a statement on Monday night saying that he “will hand over power to the president’s pick for the premiership, as a continuation of the peaceful transition of power tradition since the 2011 revolution and as a sign of respect for the state’s rules and laws.” “I cannot be an element that impedes the country or exacerbates the crisis it is in,” he said.

On the contrary, Ennahda wants to reverse Saied’s moves.

Radwan Masmoudi, an Ennahda member and President of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, said that “we are going everything in our powers to resist and to undo all these actions, by protecting and respecting the constitution and the legal process.”

Masmoudi added that Ennahda wants the backing of all political parties, national and international organizations, and the international community.

But Saied vowed to “protect the democratic path, rights and freedoms in Tunisia,” sources told Sky News Arabia on Tuesday. The same sources added that Saied, during his meeting with civil society organizations, said that these measures are “exceptional and temporary.”

For several months, Saied has been involved in a political crisis against Mechichi and Ennahda leader Rached Al-Ghannouchi - arguably allies by then - over a cabinet reshuffle. In March, Mechichi changed 11 ministers out of the 28-minister cabinet, a step that was widely seen as a move to replace the pro-Saied figures with those who are close to Ennahda and Qalb Tounes. Saied then responded by refusing to swear in four of them, including the interior, justice and health ministers.

The crisis also spread to disagreements between these figures on the structure of the government, whether to have a constitutional court, and the shape of the political system. For example, Saied believes that Tunisia has moved to a parliamentary, multi-party system that “bruises the Tunisian people in terms of food, transportation and health, especially amid a catastrophic health situation.”

The latest measures were followed by a call by the General Union of Labour (UGTT) for a “clear participatory roadmap” and abiding by the constitution. It emphasized the need for reviewing the measures related to the judiciary to ensure its independence.

The UGTT — one out of four Tunisian institutions that received a Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 for brokering a post-revolution transitional deal between political forces — said it believes in the army’s “nobility, patriotism, and unconditional adherence to the protection of the country and people and preservation of the civil state.”

Arnaud Kurze, an associate professor of Justice Studies at Montclair State University, said “it is worthwhile inquiring whether important civil society actors, such as unions and syndicates, might have to step in to mitigate the crisis, as they have done before, during the 2013 crisis when the National Dialogue Quartet defused a crisis when the nation had to confront political assassinations and turmoil across the country.”

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