Kais Saied grabs power in Tunisia


On July 25, Tunisian President Kais Saied froze Parliament, dismissed the prime minister, and announced that he would rule temporarily by decree. Alongside him, military and security officials, Said also rescinded parliamentary immunity, threatening to subject corrupt MPs to law “despite their wealth and positions.” On July 26, he also released a national bulletin ban for 30 days.

Said’s seizure of power represents a major test of Tunisia’s young democracy, as seriously as 2013 protests which could have hampered its initial transmission. How Tunisian and international audiences will react to Said’s declaration will likely shape whether the country remains the world’s only Arab democracy, or falls within the realm of what political scientists call a “self-coup” or power grab.

The roots of the crisis

Although the transition to democracy and approval of a progressive constitution through consensus, Tunisia since the 2011 revolution has been hit hard Due to a slowing economy, perceptions of corruption, and growing disillusionment with political parties. those directions fed height Said, the independent law professor who won a landslide victory in the 2019 presidential election. Despite his popularity, Tunisia’s 2014 constitution established a semi-presidential system in which Said shares power with the prime minister who tracks his power in parliament. This divided system has brought political activity to a standstill in Tunisia, with President Said, Prime Minister Hicham Mechichi and Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi repeatedly over the past year. opponents Regarding each of them powers. These divisions produced incohesive The approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has only exacerbated Tunisia’s economic and political distress.

In this climate, Said’s grab for power represents for some a clean break from a faltering transition, offering hope that a stronger presidency is not hampered by what Said recently called “”closing“In the 2014 constitution it may allow him to get the economy back on track and root out corruption in the political class. But instead of negotiating a constitutional amendment, Saeed seized power completely, freezing parliament and dismissing the prime minister by decree. Ghannouchi, Speaker of the House of Representatives Criticize Said’s moves as “a coup against the revolution and the constitution.” The four major parties in parliament – including the Islamist Ennahda Party, the Dignity Coalition, the secular parties Qalb Tounes and the Democratic Current – among others, condemned Said’s actions as unconstitutional.

A constitutional coup?

President Said, a former professor of constitutional law, claims to have acted in accordance with Article 80 of Tunisia’s law constitutionwhich allows the president to claim extraordinary powers for 30 days “in the event of imminent danger” to the state or its business. However, even a layman’s reading of Article 80 can see that it also requires that the Prime Minister and the Speaker of Parliament be consulted, and that the House of Representatives “remain in a state of continuous sitting for the duration of this period”, not frozen.

Unfortunately, the only body that can adjudicate whether Article 80 has been adequately applied – and in this regard, the only body that can under Article 80 terminate Said’s exceptional powers – is the Constitutional Court, which remains Does not exist. Although the 2014 constitution provides for its creation, Tunisia’s fractured political landscape has prevented parties from reaching an agreement on court membership.

From bad to worse

Without a judicial solution, the crisis has instead escalated in a more controversial direction in the past 24 hours. Late on Sunday night, Ghannouchi, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Samira Chaouachi and other parliamentary leaders attempted to defy Said’s decree and hold a parliamentary session, in line with the constitution.

However, a unit of the army was stationed outside Parliament prevent their entry دخول. On the one hand, it can be argued that the Tunisian military, a historically professional and apolitical force, was simply following the president’s orders (despite its shaky constitutional foundations). However, her actions had significant political consequences, both intentionally and unintentionally, creating perceptions that the military might be loyal to Said and reinforcing impressions that this was indeed a “self-coup”. Saeed’s dismissal of the defense minister sparked more rumors that he was trying to secure the army’s loyalty for what might come in the coming days and weeks.

For their part, the police have apparently shown their loyalty to Saeed over the past 24 hours, most notably by broken into Al-Jazeera office in clear violation of freedom of the press. Tunisian media too mentioned That Saeed assigned the head of his presidential guard, Khaled Al Yahyaoui, the responsibilities of the Minister of Interior. Given that the police succumbed to a little Security Sector Reform Since the revolution, as widespread abuses continue to be committed, they may also play a critical role in promoting Said’s coup attempt.

Equally disturbing is the reaction of the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), which) Received the Nobel Peace Prize For its role in mediating the negotiations that resolved the 2013 Tunisia crisis. However, rather than a neutral statement urging dialogue, the UGTT appeared to be in favor of Said’s actions, say They were in line with the constitution, but expressed concerns that he stuck to the 30-day period and did not extend his powers further.

The road ahead

Although most political parties opposed Said’s actions, the lack of opposition (or even ostensible support) from the military, police, and UGTT indicates that Said will not back down anytime soon. From now on, the crisis is likely to escalate, with both sides urging their supporters to take to the streets.

The outcome of the crisis will be shaped in part by who can muster more supporters to “vote with their feet”. At this point, the balance of power appears to be in Said’s favor. Although he no longer enjoys Approval rate 87% He did in 2019 (polls today closer to 40%), still the most popular figure in Tunisia. Outside his base, Tunisians who seek a stronger presidency, as well as those hostile to political parties and Ennahda in particular, may approve of his decisions. However, most political parties opposed the coup, and are likely to gather in large numbers as well.

But the feuding protests that have emerged today make the situation more volatile, raising the specter of clashes between the two sides. Preventing this potential violence requires Saeed and the political parties to de-escalate and negotiate a way out of the crisis. It is important to observe in this regard the position of the UGTT and other civil society actors: How long will they intervene again to help mediate a way out of this crisis?

Another important factor to watch is the reaction of the international community. Except for Turkey which came out hard Against “Happy Commentary on the Democratic Process”, most states and bodies that played a role in (Germany, the European Union, the United nations, and the we) is generally a “wait-and-see” approach, expressing concern and urging restraint and dialogue. However, if the world’s democracies do not stand firmly against the coup attempt, it leaves an opportunity for counter-revolutionary forces such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to influence the crisis to support Said, as they did with Abdel Fattah al-Masry. Sisi. With the Tunisian economy stagnating, external support – and aid – may shape the results of this crisis, for good or bad.

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