When the President of Tunisia suspended the parliament in the summer, many outside observers expected that the population would take to the streets to protest. Turns out that he received a lot of acclaim for the move, but recently the concerns have been emerging, as our correspondent in Tunis writes.
The country wedged between Algeria and Libya was long hailed as the Switzerland of the Maghreb, stable, prosperous and safe. Ten years ago, the population, and especially the young generation, had grown tired of the long-time dictator, Ben Ali. Other countries followed – and one by one returned to the old system. Not so Tunisia. All the more surprising it was when President Kais Saied on July 25, 2021, suspended parliament and essentially took on the responsibilities of government the country of about 12 million.
In Tunisia however, unease about the progress of the country had grown steadily, and Covid-19 accelerated the process. Leila Hadded, the member of parliament of the left-leaning Mouvement du Peuple, rightly pointed out that the country last year counted one million jobless, with about a fifth of those carrying a college degree.
Popular Support for Presidential Decree
With an economic downturn at their hands and a pandemic that put Tunisia right at the top of Africa, people increasingly demanded to know how parliament conducted their business. The word corruption was voiced and the government of Hichem Mechichi was fingered as responsible for the failure to tackle the problems.
Also, and this may go to the very core of the issue, Tunisian politics is revolving around the Islamists almost as much as politics in Egypt and further afield. The Ennahda Party, which had won the elections of October 2019, didn’t manage to install a prime minister, but its leader, Rached Ghannouchi, remains one of the most influential voices in Tunisian politics. The Ennahda has been in and out of power since the revolution. It also supported the cabinet of Mechichi, when it was appointed on September 2, 2020. The Mechichi government took over at a difficult moment, as the pandemic took a firm hold of the country and caused a lot of concern among its citizenship. It resulted in widespread protests against the government and allegations of police brutality and human rights abuses.
What caused further problems for Mechichi was the increasing schism between himself and the president.
Eventually, the president decided to step in. His Decree 117 aimed to suspend the constitution and monopolize all powers in the hands of the presidency. After all the real problems of unemployment and corona-related issues, and the squabbling among the political class, normal citizens welcomed the move by Kais Saied, who ironically is a former professor of constitutional law. People still support his quest to combat corruption and improve the general situation of the country.
How Close Are the Ties With Egypt?
However, while the president enjoys the support of the liberal elite, some of those who originally were positive about his action have now grown more critical. One of the questions asked was about the role that Egypt is playing. As is well established, Egypt’s strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is eager to eradicate the Islamist tendencies in the region, starting with the Muslim Brotherhood in his own country and presumably other, similar groupings in the neighbor region. Kais Saied had visited Kairo before the move to suspend parliament and observers say that this was hardly surprising.
Whether or not the Egyptian government was behind the move of Kais Saied may be decisive in respect to the future political landscape of Tunisia, and that is bothering groups including the “Citizens Against Coup”-campaign. Currently, the political elite seems undecided in how to proceed and many have closed the ranks behind the president.
But equally true is the fact that most people will judge the performance of whoever is in charge in terms of economic performance, the creation of jobs, the availability of health care services and the level of corruption among the elite. /INA