Tunisian democracy in turmoil after president sacks government

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Tunisia is facing its worst crisis in a decade of democracy on Monday 26th of July after President Kais Saied ousted the government and suspended parliament with help from the army, a move critics described as a coup. 

Kais Saied, an independent without a party behind him, announced he was invoking an emergency article of Tunisia’s constitution after a day of violent protests against the country’s biggest party, the moderate Islamist Ennahda movement. The capital, Tunis, was flooded with jubilant crowds waving flags, letting off fireworks, and honking car horns after Saied’s declaration in scenes reminiscent of the 2011  protests which toppled the country’s longtime autocratic ruler, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. 

Saied also removed the defence minister and acting justice minister from their posts, while Al Jazeera reported that its bureau in Tunis had been raided by security forces. Its journalists were expelled from the premises and phones, computers, and other equipment confiscated. 

Saied’s action followed months of deadlock and disputes pitting him against Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and a fragmented parliament, as Tunisia descended into an economic crisis exacerbated by one of Africa’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks. After the parliament speaker called for protests against the ousting, Saied extended existing COVID-19 restrictions on movement and vowed any violent opposition will be met with force. He has rejected accusations of a coup. 

Tunisia’s mishandling of the pandemic has served as a lightning rod for longstanding popular discontent with parliamentary politics: thousands of people defied Covid-19 restrictions and scorching summer temperatures in demonstrations which sparked clashes with security forces in several cities, ahead of Saied’s announcement. More than 18,000 people in the country of 12 million have died of coronavirus since the pandemic began, overwhelming crumbling public health services and crippling the vital tourism industry. 

The president also urged people not to go into the streets. “I call on the Tunisian people to stay calm and not respond to provocations,” he said. The White House said it had not yet determined whether Saied’s actions constituted a coup. However, the U.S. State Department warned Tunisia not to “squander its democratic gains.” 

Author: Dr. Funmi Beckley

fumbeck@gmail.com

Abeokuta, Nigeria

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