Ten years after the revolution that triggered the Arab Spring, Tunisia, long regarded as one of the few success stories of the democratic transition out of that era, has plunged into a crisis after its president, Kais Saied , suspend parliament and lift politicians’ immunity for 30 days, citing a provision of the 2014 Tunisian post-revolution constitution.
That has prompted accusations from Ennahda, often described as a moderate Islamist party, that Saied has staged a coup.
So what’s going on?
The current crisis is the culmination of two converging sets of events, one more recent and the other more lasting.
Since his landslide election in 2018, Saied, a stern law professor and social conservative who campaigned as an outsider, has been locked in a fight with the Tunisian parliament, with the Ennahda party prominent within it, over the separation of the country. after the revolution. powers.
Under the 2014 Tunisian constitution, political power is supposed to be divided between the institutions of the presidency and parliament and disputes are resolved by a constitutional court.
However, that court has never met due to disagreements over appointments and because Saied refused to ratify the bill passed by parliament to establish the court. These tensions echo broader political disputes over key ministerial appointments that have led to a stalemate, especially amid a pandemic.
In a country with the worst coronavirus crisis in Africa and amid widespread anger over the failed handling of the vaccination rollout, Saied ordered the military to take over the response to the health crisis last week before his last movements.
How similar is this to the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 2013?
While it seems similar at first glance, many factors are very different.
Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sisi was defense minister and had strong support in the military when he launched his coup, but Saied is a civilian, though responsible for the security services as president.
With a much less organized base than those of parties like Ennahda and Nidaa Tounis, it would need to depend on the army and the police to enforce a coup, and its position remains unclear.
The nature of the competition is also more complicated. Instead of a direct fight between an army-backed secular figure and an Islamist movement, Saied and Ennahda compete for the same supporters, not least for young rural social conservatives.
All of this has come amid discontent among voters over the state of the economy and a long identity crisis within Ennahda, which left behind its role as a more mainstream Islamist movement in favor of being a more mainstream political party.
That has left Saied as at times more outspoken than Ennahda on some hot topics for social conservatives, such as opposition to gay rights and equal inheritance for women. Saied also supports the death penalty and has said he opposes normalizing relations with Israel.
What is Saied’s vision of democracy?
Saied campaigned in 2019 against corruption and in favor of a complicated form of direct democracy at the local level, which critics saw as intended to circumvent current arrangements for the election of deputies. He has also campaigned to allow voters to remember politicians accused of financial or “moral” corruption.
He gained prominence as an academic legal expert in the country’s constitution, but most outside observers view his invocation of Article 80, which allows for the suspension of parliament in extraordinary circumstances, as flawed because he failed to consult parliament and its president, Rachid Ghannouchi, by Ennahda. most prominent leader.
Why haven’t we seen the same kinds of street protests as during the Arab Spring so far?
Saied’s landslide victory in the second round of the 2019 presidential elections saw him garner broad support from young Tunisians. Its support has waned since then, but for now it remains the most popular politician or political party in Tunisia by a fairly wide margin.
What happens next?
Saied claims to be bound by the constitution, so the test will be how closely he adheres to it with Article 80, which he invoked, allowing a suspension from parliament for 30 days.
Ennahda has also called on her supporters to avoid an escalation of the situation on the streets in line with her generally pragmatic approach in recent years, in which she has tried to avoid clashes, well aware of what happened with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Unlike that of some of its neighbors, Tunisia’s civil society, including organizations such as the influential national union UGTT, is better developed and is expected to play a role in any dialogue in the coming weeks.
Another key test will be whether Saied appoints a prime minister and, if so, who and with what degree of support that measure is supported.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism