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A message to the people of Tunisia

August 4, 2021 at 11:14 am

A member of Tunisia’s security forces stands guard outside parliament headquarters in Bardo in Tunis on July 31, 2021. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP) (Photo by FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty Images)

Temporarily suspending the constitution; having the President of the Supreme Constitutional Court take an oath before the court; preparing a road map that includes holding early presidential elections; and developing a code of honour regulating the nature of media work in Egypt. These were the highlights of the statement of the military coup authorities led by Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in July 2013. They are very similar to the exceptional measures announced by Tunisian President Kais Saied to bestow upon himself all the executive and judicial powers in his country.

I have a simple message for all Tunisian citizens: do not believe Kais Saied. He is following the same procedure and methods to whitewash the image of himself and those who backed him to carry out this coup. The evidence for it is clear.

Black propaganda

You may have seen the hashtag trending on social media in the past few days. #Tunisiaissafe has many people tweeting about it in Arabic, English and French. All claim that Saied’s actions are a step in the right direction for a safer Tunisia.

This is exactly what happened in the first days and weeks that followed Al-Sisi’s coup against the first democratically-elected president in Egypt. A number of Al-Sisi supporters launched a hashtag at the time called #Itisnotacoup, with the aim of whitewashing the image of the military coup for the benefit of Western governments and public opinion. It was — and is — black propaganda. The hashtag insinuated that what happened was not a military coup, but rather a popular revolution to which the Egyptian army responded. This was a lie exposed by subsequent events in Egypt.

READ: The final leaves of the Arab Spring have fallen 

Authoritarianism and coups vs freedoms and democracy

In a lecture delivered by the Tunisian president during his strange meeting with journalists from the New York Times, Saied asked rhetorically why he would seek to be a dictator at the age of sixty-seven. It was a nod to the words of Charles de Gaulle, the late French politician. Saied added that he did what he did only for the benefit of the Tunisian people, and that he would not take any measures that would affect freedom of expression or the press. Again, it’s a lie; this phase won’t last long.

“We have no greed for anything,” said Al-Sisi seven years ago. “I swear to God on that.” You know what happened next. Al-Sisi ran for the presidency and then ousted all of his rivals, whether they were soldiers like Sami Anan and Ahmed Shafik, or civilians like Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, Hisham Geneina and others. He said that he respected the media, but he arrested and imprisoned journalists, making Egypt the third worst country worldwide in terms of imprisoning media professionals.

It did not take us long in Egypt to understand the trap into which Al-Sisi had put us. I think Kais Saied did not wait that long to reveal the true face of his coup. He has already ordered the closure of Al Jazeera’s office, arrested activists and politicians, and investigated some political party leaders.

Tyranny, a monopoly of power and a coup cannot lead to freedom of expression or a free media. Those behind such “measures” cannot abide by democratic principles; they cannot accept opposition or give the people the opportunity to express their opinions whether through demonstrations or on social media.

Is Tunisia slipping into a dangerous pitfall?- Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Is Tunisia slipping into a dangerous pitfall?- Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Beware of the myth that if you don’t like the regime you can take to the streets

Those behind the coup and directing Saied will try to reassure you that the streets are still there, that you are capable of another revolution, and that the people who brought down Zine El Abidine Ben Ali can also overthrow Kais Saied by simply taking to the streets. Be careful, for this is what they did to us in Egypt. They said to themselves: let Al-Sisi destroy the Muslim Brotherhood and make room for us, then we’ll force the army and its commander to give in to the demands of the people. Do you know what happened, though? Al-Sisi imprisoned and eliminated them along with the Brotherhood, then he closed down the streets to everyone. He arrested all those who dared to object.

In Egypt’s prison cells you will now find Alaa Abdel-Fattah alongside Mohamed El-Beltagy, and you will find Ahmed Douma next to Safwat Hegazy. Politics and differences of opinion divided them but they were brought together by the same oppression and injustice. This is exactly what Kais Saied has already started to do in Tunisia.

READ: Will evidence ‘disappear’ to cover up the Tunisian president’s crime? 

They have a lot of money vs “I’m not an ATM machine”

I personally witnessed the broadcast of a number of audio leaks from inside Al-Sisi’s office while he was talking with his office manager Abbas Kamel about the billions of dollars he received from Gulf countries, specifically the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in the first months following the military coup. There has been a significant change in attitudes. The New York Times published details of a secret meeting that brought together the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi (the de facto ruler of the UAE), Mohammed Bin Zayed, with a number of his advisors. He demonstrated how bored he is with Al-Sisi’s continued requests for more money by saying, “Tell this guy I’m not an ATM machine.”

Tunisia is going through a major economic crisis. They will tell you that with Saied’s “measures”, they will revive the Tunisian economy and you will all live in better conditions, relying on a package of loans, grants, money and aid from some Gulf countries. However, the economic situation in Egypt now is catastrophic. Foreign debts exceed $120 billion, domestic debts exceed four trillion Egyptian pounds, and annual loan interest exceeds two-thirds of the country’s budget, which means endless loans and unprecedented economic burdens.

Better late than never

This argument comes with a high price, especially when it is used to bless a coup and support a tyrant in exchange for getting rid of a particular political faction.

After eight years of Al-Sisi in Egypt, the eminent Nasserist politician Hamdeen Sabahi commented on Saied’s coup in Tunisia: “My heart is with Tunisia. The only Arab Spring revolution that had so far survived is now being hijacked by the counter-revolution. The democratic transition was thorny, but with all its flaws it is easier and safer than the monopoly of any party in power and the exclusion of the rest of the partners or parties. We pray to God to inspire the people in Tunisia to do the right thing and save them from the ordeal of internal fighting.”

My message to the Tunisian people is not to take too long to grasp what is happening. Coups are the same and there are always many victims. It is not too late and there is still a real opportunity for the people to stand up to the coup against their revolution and their democratic experience. You can do this only if you are united in rejecting Kais Saied’s coup against the first Arab Spring revolution.

Military coups, wherever they are, do not bring any good to a country. On the contrary, they harm the people, loot their wealth and destroy their economy. Egypt is the best evidence of this. The disaster of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the loss of water from the River Nile and Al-Sisi’s gift of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia are all the results of military coups.

Beware, people of Tunisia. Beware.

Translated from Arabi21, 2 August 2021 and edited for MEMO.

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