As Tunisian President Cements One-Man Reign, Opposition Grows

CAIRO – For two months, President Kais Saied of Tunisia brought broad popular support to ever higher heights of power, culminating in a...


CAIRO – For two months, President Kais Saied of Tunisia brought broad popular support to ever higher heights of power, culminating in a recent announcement that he would essentially rule the country by decree. But it has now started to face growing opposition, increasing uncertainty over Tunisia’s most serious political crisis in a decade as its economy heads into ruin.

The blame came from staunch opponents and former allies, political parties and the media, and even some of the same supporters who cheered in the streets when Mr Saied froze parliament, sacked the prime minister and took power on July 25. At least 2,000 protesters in the capital Tunis on Sunday called on Saied to end what they called his “coup”, the first major protest against his actions in two months.

A joint statement from four political parties, including one that was previously close to the president, said Saied was heading for dictatorship and called on him to end his “exceptional measures”, which he had promised to be temporary .

“We consider that the president has lost his legitimacy by violating the Constitution,” the country’s powerful general union UGTT said in a statement on Friday, warning Mr. Saied against too much concentration of power in his hands. without dialogue.

Mr Saied threw democracy out of the North African country, the only one to emerge from the protests of the Arab Spring this started in Tunisia and swept the region ten years ago, deeper and deeper doubt.

He said in July that his actions were provisional answers to economic and health emergencies in Tunisia. But the president has only tightened his grip on power since then, ignoring international and domestic pressure to reestablish parliament.

On Wednesday, Saied’s office said it would put in place a system under which it would essentially rule the country by decree, bypassing the Constitution. He said he would assume the power to issue “legislative texts” by decree and select the cabinet, even though the constitution makes parliament responsible for making laws and allows the prime minister to appoint a cabinet.

As for the Constitution, which Tunisians adopted in 2014 after years of painstaking consultations and negotiations, the announcement simply indicated that any constitutional provision that ran counter to Mr. Saied’s new powers was no longer in force. This left in place only the preamble of the document and the first two chapters, which deal with the guiding principles and the rights and freedoms of Tunisia.

Mr Saied’s office said he would take charge of drafting political overhauls and constitutional amendments with the help of a committee he appointed.

This article particularly alarmed the UGTT, the union, which was part of a quartet of groups that were 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate for leading a national debate that helped the young Tunisian democracy to survive a political crisis in 2013.

“The modification of the Constitution and the electoral law is a question which concerns all the components of the company”, one reads Friday in the press release of the union. He called on Mr. Saied to engage in talks rather than monopolizing the power to amend the constitution.

“There is no solution to the current crisis other than consultation, partnership and dialogue on the basis of national principles, Tunisian sovereignty and service,” the union added.

The announcement made by the president’s office on Wednesday also indicated that lawmakers would lose their salaries and benefits in addition to their immunity from lawsuits, which Saied had already lifted. Tunisian authorities have arrested five MPs in the past two months, including critics of the president, although one of them, Yassine Ayari, was released last week.

Other targets have included businessmen and judges, some of whom have been placed under house arrest, travel bans and asset freezes.

At first, many Tunisians were delighted to learn of Mr. Saied’s exceptional measures. Basing their hopes of saving Tunisia sinking economy, revising the country’s chaotic politics and tackling the widespread corruption of a president they saw as incorruptible, they dismissed warnings from political opponents and critics of Mr. Saied that his actions had an air of dictatorship .

But Mr Saied failed to establish a long-awaited roadmap to turn the country around and sounded the alarm by refusing to engage with civilian groups or other politicians to determine a way forward.

After two unsuccessful months, dissatisfaction – or at least impatience – with Mr. Saied’s actions began to escalate. A small group of protesters demonstrated against him earlier this month; thousands more gathered in Tunis on Sunday.

“Emperor Kais, first in his line,” Sarra Grira, a Tunisian journalist, wrote on Facebook shortly after the news that Mr. Saied would assume greater powers.

But the real test of Mr. Saied’s popularity will be whether he can fight the economic misery that plunged Tunisia into turmoil in the first place. Struggling with high unemployment, declining living standards and widespread poverty that pushes thousands of Tunisians to risk migrating across the Mediterranean to Europe every year, the country has no prospects clear improvement.

Mr Saied has suspended talks with the International Monetary Fund over a bailout without explaining his economic plans, although he has gained popularity among some Tunisians with proposals to force wealthy businessmen accused of corruption to finance development projects in the poorest regions.

“The wall Kais is rushing towards and could splash is the economy,” said Monica Marks, professor of Middle East politics at New York University Abu Dhabi who studies Tunisia. “The expectations are so high, and it has everything to do with it,” she added.

“Inevitably there will be a huge gulf between populist expectations, which are higher than ever, and the reality of what Kais can actually offer.”

Massinissa Benlakehal contributed reporting from Tunis.

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Newsrust - US Top News: As Tunisian President Cements One-Man Reign, Opposition Grows
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