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Tunisia slips into a dangerous pitfall

Security forces take security measures around parliament building as supporters and opponents of coup gather in front of parliament building after Tunisian President Kais Saied announced late Sunday that he has fully assumed executive authority in addition to suspending parliament in Tunis, Tunisia on 26 July 2021. [Nacer Talel - Anadolu Agency]
Tunisian forces take security measures around parliament building in Tunis, Tunisia on 26 July 2021 [Nacer Talel/Anadolu Agency]

Tunisian society is still in shock after President Kais Saied's decision to sack the prime minister and freeze parliament. Few expected the elected president to use democratic mechanisms to reverse the democratic path that brought him to office. Particularly not in the country that had previously been hailed as the success story of the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions.

Tunisia's post-revolution political system is based on the tripartite sharing of power between the head of state, the parliament speaker, and the prime minister, within the framework of a construction that was intended to prevent one party from taking unilateral decisions for fear of a return to the absolute presidential system led by Habib Bourguiba and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

What happened a few days ago is the abolition of the authority of the government and parliament by the president, who granted himself exclusivity to run the executive authority.

Article 80 of the constitution sparked a lot of confusion in recent days, since it is the constitutional provision used by the president to take the aforementioned measures. This procedural article stipulates, beyond doubt, that the president can take these measures in the event of imminent danger threatening the country without specifying the nature of the danger, which opens it up to interpretation.

Article 80 grants the President of the Republic the right to take exceptional measures after consulting with the prime minister and the parliament speaker, which was not the case since President Kais Saied did not inform any of the other leaders of his intentions.

READ: Blaming Ennahda for Tunisia's problems is misleading and won't solve the crisis 

Similarly, this article of the constitution compels the President of the Republic to inform the Chairman of the Constitutional Court of these decisions; Saied has repeatedly refused to seal the order to establish this sovereign institution.

Based on preliminary data, the measures taken by President Saied violate the explicit text of the constitution and constitute a clear coup against it.

The Tunisian constitution stipulates that the Assembly of People's Representatives has to remain in permanent session for the duration of the exceptional period, which the president did not respect by suspending parliamentary work using military force and preventing deputies from entering its premises.

Habib Burgiba street remains silent after Tunisian President Kais Saied announced late Sunday that he has fully assumed executive authority in addition to suspending parliament in Tunis, Tunisia on 27 July 2021. [Arif Hüdaverdi Yaman - Anadolu Agency]

Habib Burgiba street remains silent after Tunisian President Kais Saied announced late Sunday that he has fully assumed executive authority in addition to suspending parliament in Tunis, Tunisia on 27 July 2021. [Arif Hüdaverdi Yaman – Anadolu Agency]

The president also appointed himself as head of the Public Prosecution, which means that he took over the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

President Saied has surpassed his constitutional powers and involved the security and military institutions in this political adventure, in a way that prompted many observers to describe what happened as a coup against the last bastion of democracy in the Arab region and means to wipe out the legacy of the popular revolution.

We cannot isolate the current events in Tunisia from the regional environment.

A number of regional players have conducted a major cyber campaign on social media platforms with the aim of making people believe that the coup has a popular base. The same deceitful parties have also funded campaigns to disrupt parliament and led attacks on the revolutionary parties that rejected the coup.

In Tunisia, all national parties and personalities, including professors of constitutional law, have declared their opposition to this dangerous move, calling it a coup d'état against the constitution, the revolution and the democratic path, with the exception of the People's Movement, which announced its support for the coup from the very beginning.

Nevertheless, the deteriorating situation in Tunisia on the economic, social, political, and health levels, which has been further aggravated by the repercussions of the pandemic, is undeniably striking. All parties have contributed to the deterioration of the situation in Tunisia, including the Presidency of the Republic, which has hindered the formation of government and the appointment of ministers.

The most pressing question is whether the coup d'état is the solution to end the crisis or will it exacerbate the situation? Would it not be better to organise a national dialogue that holds the involved parties responsible and achieves accountability? If the elected officials, including the MPs and the President of the Republic, have failed to meet the aims set out for their positions, should they not hand power back to the people and head for early elections?

READ: Tunisia and the final page of its history

Today, many questions haunt the Tunisian people, who fear that these measures are a prelude to restore dictatorship and replicate the Egyptian scenario. Away from speculations, the next few days will provide answers to the outcomes of the Tunisian political track.

Apart from the ongoing endeavour to involve the military which the people unanimously recognise as impartial and independent in the political game, the most dangerous thing about the coup attempt is the fact that the chapter of the Tunisian exceptionalism will be closed, which also means that the logic of democracy, elections and the concept of change by peaceful means will be deleted from the Arab dictionary, and expose the region to all kinds of possibilities that no one will ever gain anything from.

There is no solution in Tunisia except for holding dialogue, restoring constitutional institutions and drawing up a roadmap to which all parties commit in order to end the crisis and continue to consolidate the democratic path.

No team can vanquish the other, as the only possible victory is to get through the crisis that afflicts the country and consolidate the way for the sake of tomorrow's generation and for Tunisia to remain an oasis of democracy in the Arab desert.

An info-grpahic titled "Most parties in Tunisian parliament consider President Saied's coup attempt 'unconstitutional" is created in Ankara, Turkey on 28 July 2021.[ Omar Zaghloul, Irşad Tograk - Anadolu Agency]

An info-grpahic titled "Most parties in Tunisian parliament consider President Saied's coup attempt 'unconstitutional" is created in Ankara, Turkey on 28 July 2021.[ Omar Zaghloul, Irşad Tograk – Anadolu Agency]

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 29 July 2021

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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