Steering Wheel In Tunisia: Popular Unrest, Institutional Blockade And Political Instability

Kais Saied just had to wait for the moment to implement a plan that already last May Middle East Eye brought to light. A plan drawn up by his closest collaborators that sought to shape what the Tunisian president had made clear since his election in October 2019: to move from a parliamentary system, in which the president only has direct powers in defense and foreign policy , to another presidentialist, with him as the savior of the country in charge of straightening a course that has been lost since the revolution that managed to oust the dictator Ben Ali from power in January 2011.

The growing public demonstrations of these past days – in which the deep malaise that the multidimensional crisis in which the country has been plunged for a long time was provoking among the 12 million Tunisians – have offered the president, an expert in constitutional law, the opportunity to take a turn, like a Caesar who takes the reins to “save the country and restore social peace.”

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Rather than getting lost in Byzantine disquisitions on whether his decision to dismiss the Prime Minister and the Ministers of Defense and Justice and suspend Parliament – taking over for a period of 30 days all the powers granted by Article 80 of the Constitution approved in 2014 before emergency situations – whether or not it is a coup d’état, the main thing is to see whether or not what happened serves to improve the bad situation in which Tunisia finds itself.

The political crisis in Tunisia has been deepening since the 2019 elections. On the one hand, there is a head of state without his own political party in front of a president of the Parliament, Rached Ghannouchi, and leader of the main party in the chamber, Ennahda (moderate Islamist), without forgetting a prime minister, Hichem Mechichi, who came to that position at the hands of Saied, but who has been tilting towards the orbit of Ennahda, if only because instrumentally it has helped him to distance himself from his original supporter.

The tripping that each of them has put their rival has ended up paralyzing the political agenda, without the possibility of carrying out the reforms that a system needs that, with shocks, was approaching a full democracy.

Thus, Saied refused to allow several of the ministers Mechichi appointed in the government crisis that he caused last January to take up their positions. On the contrary, Saied chose to block Parliament and the Government in their attempt to launch the Constitutional Court, which should have already been activated in 2015 and which is precisely the body that should now validate or reject the recent maneuver of the president. Even in April this year Saied ended up proclaiming himself not only supreme commander of the armed forces, but also of the security forces (in principle dependent on the prime minister).

All this in the midst of accusations and reciprocal reproaches, which has resulted in ten different governments in just a decade, and while the national economy falls hopelessly, with corruption that contaminates all instances of power, a very serious level unemployment, a public debt that already exceeds 100% of GDP (when it only reached 45% in 2010) and when a new loan of 3,300 million euros with the IMF.

The last straw that seems to have filled the patience of the population is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has not only sunk tourism (16% of national GDP), but has already caused more than 18,000 deaths. Last week, after five people in charge of the Health Ministry have passed since the start of the health crisis, Saied decided to put vaccination in the hands of the army, hoping that this could change the trend.

In the institutional pulse that now takes on a new dimension, it should be remembered that, on the one hand, Saied received 72.7% of the votes in his day, with broad support both in sectors of the left and among Islamists and Tunisian youth . On the other hand, Ennhada has become the target against which all protests are fired and, although it is possible to imagine that Ghannouchi has not been definitively defeated and that groups such as Qalb Tounes and Al Karama have already shown their rejection of the decision presidential, it is very difficult to imagine that they can gather enough support around them to turn the situation around.

This does not mean, however, that Saied has already cleared the way to achieve his goal, although, according to the first popular reactions, he continues to have considerable support in a street in which the emerging prominence of the July 25 Movement stands out, which It was precisely promoting the manifestations of rejection of a political class from which they no longer expect little.

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