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Tunisia: president warns against danger of fragmenting state from within

May 4, 2021 at 12:00 pm

Tunisian President Kais Saied speaks during a ceremony in Tunis, Tunisia on March 22, 2021 [Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency]

Tunisian President Kais Saied warned on Saturday that the threats to states come not from terrorist operations, but from attempts to divide states from within. Saied made his comment after meeting with some army, National Guard, and police officers at the closed military zone in Chaambi Mountain, Anadolu has reported.

“The dangers that threaten countries are not terrorist operations carried out by extremist groups or the sides that hide behind them,” he explained. “The real danger is dividing the state and seeking to strike it from within under the pretext of interpreting constitutional or legal texts.”

Nobody is above the law, he insisted. “Whoever breaks the rules will be penalised by the law, the people, and history. We need to protect the Tunisian state from all attempts to divide it. The armed forces, whether military or security forces, all remain under the command of the President of the Republic, the Supreme Commander of the armed forces.”

On 11 April, during a celebration of the 65th Internal Security Forces Day in the presence of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, Saied reiterated, “I am the supreme commander of the security forces, not just the army.”

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The president pointed out that he is not inclined to what he described as a monopoly of the army and other security forces. “However, the legal text is clear… fair laws and judicial system are factors to guarantee justice, and whoever makes mistakes, regardless of his position, will be punished as the law stipulates.”

Mechichi responded by saying that, “The laws of the state shall be enforced, and whoever considers these laws as unconstitutional, then there are specialised structures and bodies that can decide on similar issues.” The prime minister added that the statements by the president remind everyone that a “top priority” should be the Establishment of the Constitutional Court, which is the sole institution eligible to decide on such matters.

According to Tunisia’s Ennahda movement, Saied’s statements about having total command over the internal security forces is “a violation of the constitution and the laws of the country and an infringement of the political system and the powers of the prime minister.”

According to the Tunisian constitution, the president of the republic is the supreme commander of the military armed forces, while the prime minister supervises the Ministry of the Interior and all security forces affiliated with it.

This disagreement comes at a time when Saied and Mechichi are engaged in a heated dispute, with the latter having announced a government reshuffle on 16 January that parliament later approved. However, Saied has still not summoned the new ministers to swear the oath of office, as he believes that the reshuffle was marred by violations, a claim which Mechichi rejects.

Tunisia is currently witnessing a suffocating economic and social crisis, which has been exacerbated by the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic, leading to a sharp economic decline during the current year. Protests have erupted in several regions urging the authorities to meet the demands of specific social groups.

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