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Tunisia facing risk of outbreak of an unprecedented violence, think tank warns

A protest against the President of Tunisia, Kais Saied in front of Palais de Justice in Tunis, Tunisia on 10 February 2022 [Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency]
A protest against the President of Tunisia, Kais Saied in front of Palais de Justice in Tunis, Tunisia on 10 February 2022 [Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency]

Tunisia is facing the risk of outbreak of unprecedented violence as a result of President Kais Saied's hold on power, the International Crisis Group (ICG) warned.

The ICG explained: "The economic and social challenges are daunting, as the president – after partially suspending the constitution – has hardened his patriotic and populist discourse. In turn, the European Union and the United States have increased pressure on Saïed to reverse course, threatening reductions in aid that could exacerbate the crisis, in particular if the state is unable to pay off its foreign debt."

"This situation could further polarise the country, with pro-Saïed forces on one side and anti-Saïed elements on the other. The president may resort to repressive measures that could trigger severe unrest and heighten his political isolation, taking the country into uncharted waters."

It added that Saied should allow dialogue and open the path for ministers to tackle the country's economic policy. Meanwhile, it said, "Tunisia's key partners should encourage the president to accept a return to a negotiated constitutional order by offering the prospect of a brighter economic future for the country."

It warned the situation "is unprecedented and perilous" and may lead the president to "ramp up repressive measures" to hold onto power "particularly targeting civil society and business. His populist discourse could stir up animosity among his followers toward foreigners and the rich."

READ: Tunisia's 25 July party calls for dissolving Ennahda Movement 

"By grabbing power, making decisions without debate or dialogue, and pushing through anti-corruption measures that do little to improve the lives of most of the population, the president risks isolating himself politically, haemorrhaging support and potentially even exposing himself to being, in turn, ousted through non-constitutional means, which could make his power open for grabs with chronic destabilising effects."

Saied has held nearly total power since 25 July when he sacked the prime minister, suspended parliament and assumed executive authority citing a national emergency.

He appointed a prime minister on 29 September and a government has since been formed. In December, Saied announced that a referendum will be held on 25 July to consider 'constitutional reforms' and elections would follow in December 2022.

The majority of the country's political parties slammed the move as a "coup against the constitution" and the achievements of the 2011 revolution. Critics say Saied's decisions have strengthened the powers of the presidency at the expense of parliament and the government, and that he aims to transform the country's government into a presidential system.

On more than one occasion, Saied, who began a five-year presidential term in 2019, said that his exceptional decisions are not a coup, but rather measures within the framework of the constitution to protect the state from "imminent danger".

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