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From a democracy without Ennahda to a dictatorship without opposition

Tunisian President Kais Saied in Tunis, on 25 December 2019 [FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images]
Tunisian President Kais Saied in Tunis, on 25 December 2019 [FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images]

The ultimate ambition of those who supported the coup in Tunisia on the night of President Kais Saied's introduction to his "great people", when hundreds of cars in the capital's upscale neighbourhoods roamed the city streets, was to rid them of the Ennahda movement, which they were unable to defeat democratically at the polls. The most they could achieve was to weaken it, until it lost nearly two-thirds of its electoral reserves in less than a decade. They could have removed it with the ballot boxes, as the Moroccans did when they expelled the Justice and Development Party after about a decade of rule, causing this party with Islamic orientations to decline to about 30 per cent of the votes of the electorate. However, the Tunisian situation is different, given the presence of a generally undemocratic leftist opposition (with exceptions). The conflict has been shadowed and floated by numerous settlements, as well as the postponement of resolving fundamental political differences in the name of the national common goal and preserving the "the ship", lest it sink during the successive crises during the decade of transition.

Everyone went to the polls more than five times, hoping to win more or less seats in parliament and municipal councils, and relied on reversing the balance of power in the event of a loss, by implicating those who govern and counting on them with futile demands. This opposition disrupted and paralyzed the vital facilities of the country, hoping that it would bring down its opponent so that things would come to it, and it could later gain control. However, it was unable to do so, and the rulers remained in their places without the participation of the radical leftist opposition, so Ennahda and its allies, Nidaa Tounes, etc., continued to take the wheel of the state until the coup. During this decade, the opposition fabricated rivalries and took advantage of mistakes. However, the left continued to recede, and it was only able to promote one member in the parliament that Saied had dissolved.

When the coup took place, the opposition did not hesitate, from the first moment, to support it, and later blamed it for not going to its harshest and most extreme aspirations: dismantling Ennahda and imprisoning its leaders. This opposition was ready to give up some of the requirements of democracy, in order to get rid of the movement, as a democracy without Ennahda is possible. Simple amendments to the law on political parties, along with media exaggeration of mistakes that Ennahda might have committed, are enough to make Tunisia a democracy without political Islam. This theory may have been found legitimate in a country where the opposition seems ready to be a partner to President Kais Saied if he asked it to be a partner in a project like this. It turned into a subjective or objective ally of Kais Saied's project, based on authoritarian populism and aspired to be a partner of Kais Saied in some components of his project, which aims to get rid of the Ennahda movement.

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There were several scenarios: the legal dismantling of the movement, dragging it into security and judicial attrition battles, distorting it in the media, etc. However, it seems that the option of legal dismantling is postponed. Therefore, many of the President's supporters, from the Popular Mobilisation Authority, including their many names, or from the left-wing parties that supported him, blame him for his hesitation and shakiness. We heard some of them applauding the President and shouting, "Take your hit, Mr President." Some of the left hastened to occupy leading positions in the media or some of the agencies under several banners, while experts and advisors are still urging the President not to be satisfied with his measures that do not achieve the objectives of the battle with Ennahda, which are a crushing and clear victory that will lead to the movement's political disappearance.

For many reasons, including internal and external ones, the subsequent developments transformed Kais Saied's goals into the rearrangement of his mechanisms: taking control of all authorities, the imposition of his absolute influence, and the dismantling of everything accumulated by the democratic transition experience, including the ideas, principles and institutions. After nearly eight months, the President dissolved several institutions that Tunisia built during the decade of democratic transition: the Parliament, the Supreme Judicial Council, the National Anti-Corruption Commission, the Independent High Authority for Elections and, soon, he may dissolve parties and associations among other things.

Despite slight shifts in the positions of some of these parties, most of them like the President's practices that are growing by the day in the dismantling of the institutions of the democratic experience. There is no doubt that they will rush to the first upcoming elections, even if these lack the minimum standards of transparency and integrity. Article 70 of the Constitution, which will be used by the populist advancement, stipulates the prevention of any amendment to the electoral law during the parliamentary term. Saied's supporters, in particular the opportunistic leftist opposition, are ready to sacrifice democracy in exchange for the complete disappearance of the Ennahda movement from the political scene. Saied will need these people, so that they can pave the way for him to dissolve the Independent High Authority for Elections by a presidential decree and replace it with another one in which the President, in one way or another, appoints its members, with special immunity. This is the beginning of the establishment of a dictatorship that Ben Ali had not dreamed of. From a democracy without Ennahda to a dictatorship without parties, the President is going down a road that seems empty, but it leads to alleys and steep slopes, which he will not be able to overcome for long.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 25 April 2022

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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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