Tunisian president accused of 'coup' after sacking prime minister and freezing parliament

Tunisian president accused of 'coup' after sacking prime minister and freezing parliament
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Tunisian President Kais Saied is accused of leading a "coup" after sacking the prime minister and suspending parliament.

Invoking an emergency article of the Constitution, Saied, 62, announced in a statement he would undertake the motion to secure the "integrity, security, and independence" of the country.

The government's suspension led to unease among international observers, with many who have long hailed Tunisia as the sole success of the 2011 Arab Spring, with protests transforming the former dictatorship into a constitutional democracy.

In the statement, the first broadcast on state TV, Saied announced the prime minister being relieved of duties, the "freezing of the work and powers of the House of Representatives for a period of 30 days," and the assuming of executive authority by the president, who will be assisted by a new prime minister he will appoint.

"This, and an order will be issued in the coming hours regulating these exceptional measures, which were necessitated by the circumstances, and which will be lifted by the demise of their causes. On this occasion, the Presidency of the Republic calls on the Tunisian people to pay attention and not slip behind the advocates of chaos," the statement added.

Saied then dismissed several more government officials and announced a nationwide curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. starting Monday, July 26 until Friday, Aug. 27, according to the statement.


Large protests broke out across the country on Sunday over the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Many protesters blamed the country's largest party of Ennahda, with some attacking several of their offices amid calls for them to step down, according to Reuters.

The decision to sack the prime minister and suspend parliament was met with celebrations in the capital of Tunis. Videos across social media show demonstrators welcoming Tunisian soldiers with applause and victory signs as they are deployed into the capital.

Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of Ennahda, released a statement on Twitter denouncing Saied's actions.

"What Qais Said did is a coup against the revolution and the constitution, and the supporters of Ennahda and the Tunisian people will defend the revolution," he said.

International observers expressed concern over the situation, including the Biden administration.

"The United States is closely monitoring developments in Tunisia. We have been in contact with Tunisian government officials to stress that solutions to Tunisia’s political and economic troubles should be based on the Tunisian constitution and the principles of democracy, human rights, and freedom. We have been clear in urging all parties to avoid taking any actions that could stifle democratic discourse or lead to violence. We are particularly troubled by reports that media offices have been closed and urge scrupulous respect for freedom of expression and other civil rights," a U.S. State Department spokesperson told the Washington Examiner.

"Tunisia must not squander its democratic gains. The United States will continue to stand on the side of Tunisia’s democracy," the spokesperson added.

Ten years since the dramatic 2011 revolution, frustration has grown among Tunisians as the democratic government has struggled to improve the lives of Tunisians.

"Virtually all economic indicators, including those that fueled the revolution, like high levels of youth unemployment, inflation, regional marginalization and corruption, are worse today than they were in 2010, and each subsequent transitional government has proven either incapable or unwilling to address the root causes of the economic malaise," said an analysis by Sarah Yerkes, a senior fellow in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

The coronavirus pandemic further exacerbated tensions between the government and the populace.

On July 8, a Health Ministry spokeswoman declared the health system of Tunisia had "collapsed" amid skyrocketing cases. Last week, the health minister was sacked by the now-defunct prime minister, Al Jazeera reported. Just 7% of the population has been vaccinated, while 18,600 people have died so far, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Saied, a political outsider and independent who is affectionately called "Robocop" due to his stilted and formal manner of speaking, was elected in 2019 in a landslide.

"Despite his age of 62 and very conservative stance on many social issues, Saied won the overwhelming support of the country’s youth — particularly the revolutionaries, who saw him as someone who would fight the persistent corruption ravaging the country," Yerke wrote in her analysis.


This populist appeal has allowed Saied to present himself as a force above the petty party politics of the young Tunisian democracy.

“This isn’t just about Ennahda. It’s about the political system and all the parties. [Saied] has built alliances within the army and the ministry of interior. He knows people are tired. He got the support he expected. This is about the whole political system … It’s failed. It’s been 10 years, and it’s failed," Tunisian blogger and freelance journalist Henda Chennaoui told the Guardian.

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Tags: Tunisia, President, prime minister, Coup, Arab Spring

Original Author: Brady Knox

Original Location: Tunisian president accused of 'coup' after sacking prime minister and freezing parliament