Tunisian leader Kais Saied faces resistance - GulfToday

Tunisian leader Kais Saied faces resistance

Kais Saied

Kais Saied. File

After he dismissed the government of prime minister Hichem Mechichi on July 25, suspended parliament, put on hold the salaries of the lawmakers, and removed the immunity of politicians and opened the possibility of their prosecution on July 25, President Kais Saied had declared that he was taking stern action against a corrupt political system, and that all that he wants to do is clean the place and then restore the parliamentary form of government.

People had believed that his intentions were good and that to avert the economic crisis caused by political paralysis, the shock treatment was necessary. Two months later, people are not sure about Saied’s intentions, and this was expressed by a strong protest in the capital of ordinary people and other political activists as Saied took further action of suspending the constitution of 2014 and empowered himself to rule by decree. He has promised to appoint a committee to draft amendments to the constitution. The opposition led by Ennahda, the largest party, called it a coup. The protesters demanded that Saied step down because they sense that this is the dawn of another dictatorship like the one that had happened in 1959.

One of the protesters, Nadia Ben Salem, who had travelled 500 km to join the protest, was quoted as saying, “We will protect democracy…constitution is a red line.” Though all the opposition parties – Ennahda, the largest, and the Heart of Tunisia, the second largest, Attayar, Al Jouhmouri, Akef, and Ettakatol – have condemned Saied’s latest move. Rached Ghannouchi, leader of Ennahda, called on people to take to the streets and to protest peacefully, while Osama Al-Khalifi of the Heart of Tunisia called for “a national alignment against the coup” in a tweet. Anour Ben Kadour, leader of the labour union UGTT with a million members declared, “Tunisia is heading towards absolute individual rule.”

Saied, a university constitutional lawyer and considered a social conservative had won landslide presidential election in October 2019 with the promise of empowering youth and local government. He gained public prominence when expressed his critical views at the time of the making of the 2014 constitution. It seems that he wants to alter the constitution, and he still claims that he will not become a dictator. And according to reports that he enjoys the support of many in the country. But he may alienate his supporters if he is seen to be dismantling the democratic system that has been set up after a long struggle.

One of the reasons behind the Tunisian turmoil is the stagnant economy. The people are restless and angry as there is no growth and no jobs, and the distress is widespread. And the politicians seemed to be embroiled in their games of power and corruption. It is this alarming situation that allowed Saied to act swiftly and decisively in July. But the protests that have erupted seemed to signify that unless he is able to provide relief through appropriate economic measures, he would not be able to win the trust of the people. Tunis-based Ahlem Hachicha is quoted in the media describing the nature of Saied’s latest measures: “... He has now produced a set of rules that basically say he holds every form of power, over every aspect of the private life of citizens, ruling over every public and private institution, with no form of checks and balances.”

Now suspicions have arisen in the minds of people that Saied in the name of cleaning a corrupt system is actually concentrating all power in his hands, and this is a prelude to declaring himself a dictator. The protests on Saturday show that the democratic spirit of the Tunisians is high.

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