Tunis, Tunisia—Countries in North Africa at home and abroad, after the president suspended parliament and fired the prime minister and other senior government officials, troops surrounded the Tunisia parliament, blocking its speakers from entering Monday. Raised concerns about young democracy.
In the face of national protests against Tunisia’s economic problems and the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis, President Kais Saied decided late Sunday to dismiss officials, including the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Defense.
On Monday, he announced a series of measures, including a curfew for a month from 7 pm to 6 am and a ban on gatherings of three or more people in public places. He denied allegations that he was promoting a coup.
Some demonstrators shouted with joy, waving the Tunisian flag and cheering for the shooting.
However, others have accused the president of seize power, and the country’s foreign allies have expressed concern that it could fall into dictatorship again. In a move that surely fueled those concerns, police attacked the office of broadcaster Al Jazeera and ordered it to be closed.
Tunisia, which ignited the Arab Spring in 2011, when protests led to the overthrow of long-standing dictatorial leaders, is often regarded as the only success story of those uprisings.
But democracy did not bring prosperity. Tunisia’s economy was already declining before the pandemic, with an unemployment rate of 18% and young people demanding work earlier this year.
The government recently sought a fourth loan from the International Monetary Fund in 10 years, further fueling anger in poor areas by announcing cuts in food and fuel subsidies.
The pandemic only exacerbated these problems, and the government recently imposed blockades and other virus restrictions in the face of one of the worst outbreaks in Africa.
Annoyed by financial malaise and poor response to pandemics, thousands of protesters demanded the dissolution of parliament on Sunday against virus regulation and the heat of the heat in the capital, Tunis and other cities. Mostly young crowds shouted, “Get out!” A slogan for early elections and economic reforms. Collisions have occurred in many places.
“I have to take responsibility, and I did. I chose to stand by the people,” the president said in a solemn television speech.
Mr Saeed said he had to dismiss the prime minister and suspend parliament because of concerns about public violence. He said he acted in accordance with the law, but Speaker of Parliament Rached Ghannouchi said he was leading the Islamic Party, which controls the legislature, and that the president did not consult him or the prime minister as needed. The three are in conflict.
“We have made these decisions … until social peace returns to Tunisia, and until we save the nation,” Saeed said.
The dissolution of parliament supported some protesters, but others in Tunisia opposed it. Police intervened on Monday to prevent clashes outside the parliamentary building between protesters in support of the president and members of the dominant Nafda Party and allies who opposed the move. Both sides shouted and some threw stones, according to an Associated Press reporter.
Speaker Gannouchi tried to enter Congress overnight, but police and troops guarding the scene stopped him. He sat in a car outside the building for nearly 12 hours before leaving on Monday afternoon. His next step was unclear.
He called the president’s move a “coup against the Constitution and the (Arab Spring) Revolution” and argued that Congress would continue to function.
Cifedin McCluff, the founder and parliamentarian of the hardline Islamist coalition, also denounced the president’s move as a coup, saying “we will not let it pass.”
However, the president, a former Constitutional professor elected in 2019, declined the allegations during a meeting with representatives of several national organizations involved in the coup on Monday.
“I ask how I can talk about the coup,” Radio Mosaic quoted as Saeed said. “I learned and taught law. I applied the Constitution and respected its nature.”
The president has issued a constitutional clause that allows him to take over administrative power for an unspecified period of time in the event of “an imminent danger that threatens the system of the country and the independence of the country and interferes with the normal functioning of public authority.”
Tensions between the prime minister and the president have been accused of inadequate control of the virus, but vaccination has slowed and the health minister has been dismissed this month.
To date, 7% of the population has been fully vaccinated and more than 90% of the beds in the country’s intensive care unit are occupied, according to Ministry of Health statistics. There are videos on social media showing that the corpse is left in the middle of the ward as the morgue is struggling to cope with the increase in deaths.
Ennahdha has been accused of being a specific target and focusing on internal concerns rather than controlling the virus.
Security forces also moved to the Tunis office in Al Jazeera on Monday, according to a Qatar-based satellite news network, said on a Facebook page. The reason for the move was not immediately clear.
Al Jazeera quoted journalists as saying that ten “heavy-armed police officers” entered their station without a warrant and asked everyone to leave. “The reporter’s phone and other equipment were confiscated and were not allowed to return to the building to retrieve personal property,” the network said.
Qatar and its Arjajira have been seen by some Middle Eastern countries as promoting Islamic groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. On top of that, in other countries, especially Egypt, offices were closed after the 2013 coup inaugurated by the current President Abdel Fatta Elsisi.
Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said it hoped that the “voice of wisdom” would spread in the turmoil and the rule of law would be reestablished.
Concerns were raised about whether early democracy was undergoing an authoritarian shift, both inside and outside Tunisia, from the United Nations to the United States, the European Union, and beyond.
Former President Moncef Marzouki called for political dialogue in a Facebook video, saying, “Tonight we made a big leap and returned to dictatorship.”
Potential violence and respect for the Tunisian system were at the forefront of concern by allies.
“The already volatile areas are” more unbearable than they are today, “” said UN Deputy Secretary-General Farhan Haku.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke on the phone with Tunisian leaders and encouraged “observing the principles of democracy and human rights that underlie Tunisian governance,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said. Stated. Blinken also called for Blinken to “maintain an open dialogue with all politicians and Tunisian people.”
German Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Adebar has stopped calling the president’s actions a coup, but said the Tunisian president seems to rely on “a fairly broad interpretation of the Constitution.”
France, a former colonial ruler in Tunisia, said he hoped to “respect the state of the law and return to the normal functioning of the institution as soon as possible.”
Similarly, Italy appealed for respect for the Tunisian Constitution, but Turkey wanted “democratic legitimacy” to be restored soon.
Ben Bouazza by Bouazza