Is Tunisia undergoing a second Arab Spring?
On Sunday, 25th July 2021, tens of thousands of people across Tunisia demonstrated against the PM and Ennahda (the Muslim Brotherhood party ruling Tunisia). The party’s local headquarters in the south-western city of Touzeur was set on fire.
Tunisia’s main political parties have accused president Kais Saied of staging a coup on Sunday after he sacked the prime minister and suspended parliament.
In the early hours of Monday, the speaker of parliament, Rached Ghannouchi, who leads Ennahda, tried to get into the legislature, but he was blocked by Mr Saied’s supporters, with the backing of the armed forces. He and his own loyalists staged a sit-down protest.
As usual, the Western media and politicians who do not bother to do real investigations of events, are again missing the fundamentals of the Tunisian crisis. There is a most interesting video of the confrontation between Ghannoushi and the armed forces when he addressed the officers blocking his entry to parliament telling them:
“I, as well as you (armed forces), have sworn allegiance to the constitution” to which the officer and other demonstrators replied “No, we swore allegiance to the Homeland/Nation (al Watan)”; meaning, to protect the rights of the people not political parties. After all, the Constitution can and on many occasions was changed by politicians to suit themselves, but the Homeland is indivisible; it does not change.
The president asserted that he acted in accordance with the constitution. Whether or not this is a fact is debatable, depending on which side of the coin one is.
What Americans, Europeans and other world leaders are wilfully ignoring is the fact that the president’s move is supported not only by the frustrated and disgusted Tunisian people but also by the armed forces.
This may be a repeat performance of what happened in Egypt in 2013, when 30,000,000 Egyptians demonstrated at the same time all over the country also against the Muslim Brotherhood led government of Muhammad Morsi, allowing the armed forces under then defence minister Abd al Fattah al Sisi, to take over in July 3rd 2013.
Contrary to Western politicians and news media, this was not a Coup ‘d’état, because the military did not overthrow Morsi’s government; it was the Egyptian people who did, with the backing of the military.
Saied’s move, followed Sunday’s violent massive protests over the government’s mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak and the economic and social turmoil.
Late on Monday, dismissed PM Hichem Mechichi said he would hand his powers to whoever is appointed by Mr Saied.
Clashes among Mr Saied’s supporters and opponents continued on Monday in the capital Tunis. They threw stones at each other outside the legislature, which had been barricaded by troops.
In a statement, Mr Mechichi said he did not want to play the role of a “disruptive element”. His comments came amid growing calls from the international community for restraint.
Mr Saied, an independent who was elected in 2019, has had a long-standing feud with Mr Mechichi, who has the backing of the largest party in parliament, the so-called moderate Muslim Brotherhood Ennahda party, that has been misruling Tunisia for the last 10 years.
The president has also sacked the defence and justice ministers.
Tunisia’s revolution in 2011 is often held up as the sole success story of the Arab Spring revolts across the region – but it has not led to political and economic stability.
Tunisia has had nine governments since the 2011 revolution, many of them short-lived or fractured.
Covid is only one factor in the unrest. After all, it was the deep-rooted problems of unemployment and the crumbling infrastructure that were behind the original uprising in 2013 which have not been resolved, because the politicians failed miserably to address these issues for the last 10 years.
The recent spike in Covid cases has fuelled long-standing public anger. The health minister was sacked last week after a failed vaccination drive.
Coronavirus-related deaths reached a record for the country last week, passing 300 in one 24-hour period. Tunisia has one of the highest per capita death rates in the world.
Vaccinations have been slow: only 7% of the 11.7 million population are fully vaccinated.
In a televised address, Mr Saied said: “We have taken these decisions… until social peace returns to Tunisia and until we save the state.”
He vowed to respond to any violence with military force.
Mr Saied said he will now govern alongside a new PM, with parliament suspended for 30 days.
For the sake of the Tunisian people and stability, the military may continue to side with the president and allow him 30 days to find a prime minister and a functioning government; otherwise, one of their officers may emulate al Sisi of Egypt and establish a military government.
Most of those who were interviewed after these events, said they feel like fresh hope after years of chaotic governance. After all – many pointed out with a lot of satisfaction – with the backing of the armed forces, there will be less chance of violent confrontations by the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters.