Creating new perspectives since 2009

Kais Saied and the importance of the people's return to the street

October 12, 2021 at 3:07 pm

Demonstrators gather to protest against Tunisian President Kais Saied in Tunis, Tunisia on 10 October 2021 [Nacer Talel/Anadolu Agency]

Since 25 July, Tunisian President Kais Saied has been unable to achieve anything, neither for the state nor for the Tunisian people. He only succeeded in freezing parliamentary life and completing the mission he had begun since his election: to disrupt the government which was established following the elections and in accordance with the constitution that he had sworn to abide by. Therefore, this catastrophic failure contributed to the rise in the voice of the popular groups opposing it in the street and the declining popular support for the coup.

Features of failure

Saied said that he took the measures because of the imminent danger to the state, the disruption of its work and in order to fight corruption and stimulate the deteriorating economy.

More than two months after the coup, Saied did not have any success in all the files he promised to solve:

  • Saied failed to form a new government so far and he started this first step very late in this context by appointing Najla Bouden as prime minister. This means that he was not able to get the state’s wheels going, which he himself contributed to disrupting through his quarrels with parliament and with the prime minister.
  • Saied failed to provide any economic solutions to alleviate the crisis witnessed by the country. He did not present a clear vision for the solution and was not even able to obtain financial support from the countries that supported his coup, likely because they do not trust his ability to rule or their inability to anticipate his policies given the high level of populism in his speeches and decision. It could also be because he is just a tool that will be disposed of later. Furthermore, Tunisia’s ability to receive international aid will be linked to a political path that restores democracy – albeit as a formality – to the country, a path that the president has not yet presented any road plan to implement.
  • Saied has not yet implemented his promises to fight corruption. He could have played a role in this file even before the coup, but he didn’t. he did not refer anyone accused of corruption to trial, but rather pursued his opponents, including parliamentarians, judges and media professionals, and brought them to military trials or exceptional measures. Instead of presenting the heads of corruption to the judiciary, Saied was preoccupied with threatening speeches to unknown parties. He has not yet even revealed the ministers he refused to receive to take the constitutional oath, and thus disrupted the work of the government, on the pretext that they were suspected of corruption.
  • The president failed to obtain political support, instead he was content with the support of irregular popular coordinations which were of an unknown size and representation in the streets and acknowledged their right to support him. He did not talk with any political party or circle and quickly began to lose all of the parties that supported his coup because of their conflict with Ennahda. These parties quickly discovered that their conflict with Ennahda cannot be resolved by supporting a coup that disrupts democracy, stops the political process that began after the revolution, and makes them subject to the arbitrariness of an undemocratic regime.
  • After two and a half months in his position, Saied did not present any programme, action plan, or road map outlining political life after the 25 July coup. Tunisians do not yet know what constitution will govern them, the nature of elections, the form of parliament, the laws regulating the formation of the government, or the way it works. In short, Saied demolished a clear political path, with all its flaws and advantages, and did not offer a clear alternative. He cursed and destroyed the old path without clarifying the path he wanted to build.

The people want to return to the streets

The popular slogan of the Tunisian people’s revolution in 2011 was “The people want”. This slogan was repeated in Tunisian cities from Sidi Bouzid, the birth of the revolution, to every Tunisian city, reaching the capital, before moving to the streets and squares of Arab countries, including Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and other cities stricken by poverty, tyranny and marginalisation. This slogan was the only weapon for nations that discovered they are capable of change and are capable of demolishing the wall of fear built by the ruling powers since the “end” of colonialism.

The catastrophic failure of Kais Saied in all the files that he claimed to stage his coup to solve contributed to restoring momentum to the streets and to large groups of the Tunisian people re-discovering their strength. They began to return to the streets, the first and last home of the revolution. Thousands of demonstrations took place over a period of two weeks in September, which then culminated in the demonstrations on 10 October. They were attended by tens of thousands, despite the prohibition of demonstrations on Habib Bourguiba Street, the security restrictions, and the placement of barriers at the entrances to Mohammed V Street, where they were allowed to demonstrate.

READ: Tunisian President stops house arrests as a first move to appease popular outrage

The slogan “the people want” strongly returned to the street two and a half months after the coup. The momentum of the demonstrations increased in light of the president’s failure to provide any solutions, and it will increase more with time. This is because this failure will make the president lose his supporters, which will leave him exposed and vulnerable without political or popular backing. This will also make his opponents stronger.

The importance of the mass demonstrations opposing the coup in Tunisia is not because it will lead to an end to the coup. This is an uncertain result in light of the complexities of politics in Tunisia, the role of external forces, and the absence of a clear picture of the position of the army, security forces and state agencies in general. However, the demonstrations prove that the Tunisian street is still alive and that its ability to resist deviation from the path of the “Second Republic” will grow stronger with time. The demonstrations also clearly show that the lie of broad popular support for Kais Saied’s measures is completely false.

Is Tunisia's state of emergency being used to restrict freedoms? - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Is Tunisia’s state of emergency being used to restrict freedoms? – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 11 October 2021

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