Tunisian President Kais Saied made it clear on Wednesday in a statement from his cabinet that he will assume new powers. Hours later, the country’s official gazette announced that the president will rule by decree from now on. The parliament of the only country where the Arab Spring triumphed cannot say anything because it was suspended for a month by Said himself. He later extended the suspension indefinitely. Day by day, this 63-year-old jurist, who came to power in 2019 with no previous political experience, dismantles the constitutional scaffolding of the Maghreb country.
After the announcement, the main opposition parties in Tunisia labeled the president as a coup leader and launched several calls for mobilization. Four formations issued a joint statement on Thursday in which they indicated that Saied had lost his legitimacy. The message of these formations (Attayar, Al Jouhmouri, Akef and Ettakatol) goes in the same direction as Rached Ganuchi, leader of the moderate Islamic party Ennahda, majority in Parliament, where he has 53 of the 217 deputies, had already declared. Ganuchi accused Saied of having actually abolished the Constitution by which the country has been governed since 2014, through the rule enacted on Wednesday. Through this law, Saied is authorized to legislate by ordinance on some thirty issues, ranging from press freedom to security policy.
The four parties that denounce a coup d’état do not carry much weight in Tunisian society, except Attayar, which supported Saied until July 25, when he ousted Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspended Parliament’s activities for a month. However, criticism of Saied increases every day. Qalb Tunis, which was the second party in the 2019 legislative elections, also classified Saied as a coup plotter. And the left-wing Tunisian Workers Party (PTT) declared itself this Thursday in favor of mobilizing against the president’s measures, which it called “the culmination of the coup operation” of 25 July.
However, the main political force in Tunisia remains the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT), the most powerful union in the Arab world, with more than a million members in a country of 11.6 million inhabitants. And this formation has not yet officially declared itself, although one of its leaders, Anour Ben Kadour, declared this Thursday morning that Tunisia is moving towards an “absolute individual government”. It remains to be seen whether the union will decide to call a massive protest or will prefer to opt for inaction.
a man without charisma
The 63-year-old jurist Kais Saied is Tunisia’s seventh president, the second since the establishment of democracy. This man, who participated in the 2019 presidential elections with no political experience, no charisma and no money, unleashed euphoria in the country. He promised a shift towards true democracy with a message that made a deep impression among millions of unemployed youth. It was reputed to be austere and denounced corruption. He won with 72.7% of the vote, compared to 27.29% for his rival, tycoon Nabil Karui.
It played in its favor the discredit of a political class that, in 10 years, does not even rise to agree to form a Constitutional Court, an institution that would now have guarded against any abuse of power. Corruption of politicians, transfuguismo and incompetence to curb unemployment allied with the pandemic and paved the way for Saied to assume the legislative and executive powers on July 25th.
There are no highly reliable surveys in Tunisia. But the street, for now, accepts Saied’s measures. On Saturday, September 18, a demonstration of hundreds of people denouncing Saied’s “coup d’état” was recorded for the first time in Tunis. But the vast silent majority followed in silence.
Selim Kharrat, a member of the Tunisian NGO Al Bawsala, told this newspaper that Saied’s popularity will undergo a big change soon, due to the country’s major economic challenges. “Tunisians can continue to support Saied’s actions, even after the decree law he passed on Wednesday; because anyway the situation that existed before July 25th [quando ele assumiu plenos poderes] it wasn’t much better. But when people realize that the economic situation doesn’t improve, things will change.”
Kharrat, whose NGO closely follows the country’s political movements, believes that the demonstrations will multiply from now on, because Saied “rejects dialogue and left no other option for his political opponents”. “Since Wednesday they have not been allowed to appeal their decree-laws to justice,” concludes Kharrat.
Professor Monika Marks, from New York University Abu Dhabi, points out that after July 25, when Saied took full power, there was great hope inside and outside the country, placed in the four Tunisian organizations that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 They were instrumental in promoting the democratic transition in the country: the UGTT union, the country’s employers’ association (UTICA), the Tunisian League for Human Rights and the Bar Association.
These four organizations, according to Marks, now do not have a common enemy, as in 2013, when they fought against the Ennahda Islamic formation and acted together because they believe that my enemy’s enemy is my friend.
“The UGTT”, explains Marks, “which is the only actor with real mobilization capacity, has been trying to negotiate bilaterally with Saied, in the hope that they can convince him to approve economic measures of his own political agenda”. UTICA, according to the professor, is very discredited in the streets because of corruption problems. And the other two organizations have no real mobilization capacity. “UGTT is the only one with the capacity, but we don’t know if it has the will to oppose Saied”, concludes Marks.
In turn, activist Ali Mhenni believes that the country has just entered a “Saiedian” phase, where “no one knows the details of what can happen, except Saied himself and some of his close friends.”
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