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Kais Saied's new republic in Tunisia

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

The farce of the referendum on the constitution in Tunisia, which Kais Saied penned to give himself dictatorial power — what kind of constitution does not allow the president to be held accountable or impeached? — had a very small participation rate. Only around 25 per cent of eligible voters took part. Even though the so-called Independent High Authority for Elections announced that 94.6 per cent of votes cast were in favour of the new constitution drafted by Saied, it is independent in name only. It was put together following the dissolution of the legitimate committee as part of the coup imposed on Tunisia by the president. The result as announced does not meet the criteria for what might be considered a credible referendum by the international community.

"The constitution will come into effect after the final results of the referendum are announced by the electoral commission," says Article 139 of the Saied constitution. This actually presupposed that the vote would be in favour, regardless of the actual result, and poses a direct challenge to the will of the people as Saied imposes his dictatorial rule on Tunisia.

Tunisia has thus entered a new phase after a very small minority people voted for the new constitution which sees the return of a dictatorship to Tunisia, eleven years after the people overthrew the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Saied the law professor tailored the constitution to suit his needs and determined its clauses and content. By adopting this constitution, the past ten years of nascent democracy and learning the culture of an institutional state in a country that was the birthplace of the Arab Spring has gone down the drain.

The Kais Saied constitution has come into immediate effect, enabling him to monopolise all power in Tunisia, and has created unprecedented divisions in society. Many people now live in fear of what comes next. The visible and hidden aspects of the Kais Saied project cannot develop society and a nation; his project cannot be translated on the ground as a "new republic" as he claims. This is because it excludes those he doesn't like, and is a minefield for his political opposition. Instead of a president uniting the Tunisians, Saied has divided them. Moreover, his authoritarian project threatens to isolate Tunisia from the world; it is clear that it is now prey to conflicting regional poles.

READ: Tunisia's Ennahda: 'Vote boycott for Constitution referendum evidence it is rejected, null'

The 2014 constitution was a stumbling block in the way of Saied's ambitions and coup, even though he was sworn in under its terms and conditions. He has, therefore, broken his oath of office. Not satisfied with doing so, he has gone ahead in open opposition to the document which gave him his legitimacy as president of the republic.

Saied has deceived everyone who was optimistic about him coming from outside the old, corrupt parties. However, the measures he imposed on Tunisia exactly a year ago have made it clear that he did indeed stage a coup against the post-revolution democratic path. He shut down parliament, froze its work, lifted MPs' immunity and imposed a state of emergency. He then passed a set of exceptional laws and abolished all oversight bodies; on 22 September last year he announced that he had given himself full legislative authority, after usurping the executive and judicial authorities at the start of his coup, and tightened his grip on power in Tunisia.

The counter-revolution represented by Kais Saied has thus overcome the Jasmine Revolution. Tunisia now joins the other Arab Spring countries in the region which remain afflicted and ruled by corrupt, dictatorial elites.

Tunisia's president Kais Saied is bleeding the country - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Tunisia's president Kais Saied is bleeding the country – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Nevertheless, the post-referendum phase will not be as easy as Saied thinks. The small popular participation in the referendum indicates a change in popular interests in light of growth of the opposition; increasing economic and social failures; the deterioration of public services and the standard of living; the growth of national debt; and an international position that has warned against the decline of civil and political liberties in Tunisia.

Kais Saied did not make the Tunisian people happy or better off in any way whatsoever. Instead, he made the counter-revolutionaries in Abu Dhabi happy, along with their media outlets, which mislead the world by proclaiming the "downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood" in Tunisia, rather than the "fall of democracy".

The sun of freedom shone across the Arab world from Tunisia in 2010, but it has clouded over with the Arab-American-Zionist plots that refuse to allow people to live with dignity and freedom. It can surely only be a matter of time before the sun breaks through again, though.

READ: Tunisia: opposition accuses Saied of violating 'no campaigning' period

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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