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What is the solution for Tunisia?

January 19, 2023 at 11:00 am

Tunisian President Kais Saied in Tunis, Tunisia on July 21, 2022 [Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency]

If you ask opponents of Tunisian President Kais Saied what the solution is for the country, they will answer without hesitation: Kais Saied must step down. If you ask them how this will happen, they have no specific answer.

The president’s supporters will answer the same question by saying that he must stay in office and take the country forward. How is this possible? They have no specific answer either.

If you ask the same question to those who call themselves the “third option” — mainly the Tunisian General Labour Union and its supporters — they reply that we cannot go back and we cannot accept what Saied did. What does that mean? They have no answer.

The irony is that everyone generally agrees that the situation in the country has become unbearable, and that a solution must be sought to get Tunisia out of the impasse in which it has been stuck since 25 July, 2021, when Saied started his “coup against the constitution” to take sole control of the legislature and judiciary. Even more ironical is that Saied himself said recently that “this situation cannot continue” and “enough is enough”. From his perspective, of course, he and his supporters are on the right path, and the rest are “traitors, agents, and conspirators.”

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The scene is even darker because they all face a major dilemma. Those calling for Saied’s departure stress that their struggle is peaceful and they do not support calls for a military coup or any kind of violence. They are counting on this departure being peaceful as a result of popular anger and protests. However, although the people are complaining about Tunisia’s political impasse and the struggle of daily life, they are not ready to take to the streets across the country. This is despite the fact that the current situation is worse than what it was when they took to the streets in 2011 to depose the late dictator Ben Ali.

'Big failure' as Tunisia sees only 9% voter turnout - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

‘Big failure’ as Tunisia sees only 9% voter turnout – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Saied’s supporters suffer because the president never provides them with any ammunition with which to argue with their opponents. On the contrary, he has let them down, meaning that they are no longer able to defend him. That is why most have gradually disappeared, including leftists and extreme nationalists, while some have now turned against him, leaving him with no supporters other than a few insignificant individuals defending the indefensible, making a mockery of politics and justice. The biggest dilemma for these people remains the disregard, and even contempt, with which Saied treats them; he does not value them at all.

As for the group who have a foot on both camps, they neither satisfy Saied nor his opponents, so have lost them both. The criticism of Saied by the Labour Union, the spearhead of this movement, has increased, but he refuses to consider that what he did in 2021 was a coup, and is unwilling to have any dialogue with those who think otherwise.

Over the past few months the union has sought to provide Saied with a lifeline to amend some of his policies, but he ignores it. This may be why the union has resorted to strikes in some sectors in rejection of the government’s economic approach and its backing down from its commitments. It has always stressed that such strikes are not political and should not serve the interests of the president’s opponents. Even worse is its defamation of earlier leaders — “the black decades” — even though it was a partner in one way or another, just as it was a key partner in destroying the country’s economy with its unfair demands and countless strikes that turned some of its leaders into “thugs” who hindered more than one reform process in different sectors and companies.

As long as the situation in Tunisia remains like this, with a stubborn president who does not care about anyone, we will reach a stage that is completely unsustainable. This moment is fast approaching with every additional measure taken by Saied, such as his insistence on holding the second stage of the parliamentary election at the end of this month despite the woeful turnout in the first stage in December. He called for the election against everyone’s wishes based on an electoral law that he alone drafted, just like the constitution.

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Public anger is set to intensify following his agreement with the International Monetary Fund, which many are warning will lead Tunisia to a revolution of the hungry with no political slogans or a leadership to contain it. God only knows how violent it will be or whether there will be external intervention to arrange a political change in the country. What will that entail, and who will benefit? Such external interference may be launched as soon as a revolution erupts, taking advantage of the shock and chaos, and the foreign “others” will immediately begin to arrange matters in the country according to their own desires. Let’s not be in any doubt; they are definitely prepared for all possibilities. At that point, the Tunisian people will be objects to be played with, although they could have been the main actors if only they had been sensible and foresighted enough.

Translated from  Al Quds Al Arabi, 15 January 2021

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