While the Tunisian President Kais Saied may mean well, he should be careful because of the slippery-slope course his country is taking that might possibly end into becoming an autocratic state through the policies and decrees he is pursuing. This is practically how everyone feels inside and outside Tunisia, foe and friend alike.
No one wants Tunisia to forego its 10-year democracy which is apparently the only successful one pulled off in the Arab world since it began through its Jasmine revolution in 2011. The “Arab Spring” was a triumphant one with Tunisia serving as a role model that was stopped in its tracks in many other countries of the Middle East region.
Ok, in Tunis, it had its shortcoming and ups and downs but an eventual democratic system was instituted with a vibrant parliament, political parties and associations. These now stand in peril – and especially since last July – when Mr Saied took matters in his own hands and “froze” Parliament and sent its deputies packing with no end in sight.
Tunisia: Kais Saied claims 1.8 million people rallied for him. Media says low thousands https://t.co/VtnBx165fW Paging Donald Trump.— Aaron Y. Zelin (@azelin) October 5, 2021
While he then said this is a temporary measure and that parliament would soon be reinstituted, three months later he is still not only the executive authority in the land, but he has taking it upon himself to concentrate even more power in his hands which is surely not good for Tunisia, its democracy and even for himself.
Coup not going away
Today Saied, and despite his continuing solid grass-root support, stands accused even more of instituting the “July coup” through sacking its prime minister Hichem Mechichi, shutting parliament, jailing and questioning deputies – albeit Islamists who control the assembly – and telling the MPs he will no longer be responsible for their pay packets and will continue to rule by decree. This has indeed become mind-boggling to many for his position in the face of his deleterious actions should have been to placate the state and society, including its many trends, factions, institutions and political activists.
But no, he sought to bide his time, to think of what he is going to do next while antagonizing many, not least of all in parliament. The criticism that is now being labelled against him is that he become president in 2019 through a massively exciting popular vote but he is ending up with all executive power, a move totally unexpected from such a man. As a constitutional law professor he should know what that means and how it can evolve into something much more if he allows it because of personal whims, ambition and the tunneled desire to put things right.
He is now clearly at a crossroad. He wants to move forward but he is not moving quickly enough to solve the political crisis which many say he created. At much nagging from the street no doubt, he finally appointed a prime minister, a woman academic by the name of Najla Bouden Romdhane, a geologist by training and who works on World Bank projects in the Higher Education Ministry.
This appointment was initially seen as a breakthrough because it suggested there was now at least a prime minister who can head a government that is yet to be formed. Romadhani is the first woman to be appointed as prime minister not only in Tunisia but in the Arab world. It was greeted as very good news. But the problem with that was soon realized. There was no parliament to approve her appointment. In normal circumstances she would be vouched for by parliament but Saied blocked this.
Under the new rules he was the person in control. In all fairness Saied took the drastic action to stop what was termed as the “dysfunctional body” the Tunisian parliament was becoming. New policies, legislations and laws were needed to be made to get the economy moving, lower employment at 18 percent, deal with Tunisia’s huge external debt and deal with the spiraling Covid-19 pandemic crisis and end corruption.
Ok, fine, deal with it quickly, but instead there was a lot of foot-dragging! All eyes are on Tunisia today, people have become agitated and with the absence of parliament the issue of human rights and freedoms soon came under the spotlight despite the altruism that is involved to put things right.
After the so-called coup for instance, outside lending from international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund temporarily came to a halt. They want to see what happens next and a new 3.3 billion euros stands in the pipeline till things settle down. But the situation is desperate. At the moment Tunisia stands at the risk of defaulting on its foreign loans, earmarked at $4 billion. It will face a major risk and problem if it does this.
That’s partly why Saied is in a fix. This is not the time to dilly-dally. The wheel has finally started moving with the appointment of the new prime minister. Now is the final move to form a government and appoint ministers which could be very quickly but it could take some time. Although he has instructed Romadhane in this process, cynics say the ministers are being cherry-picked by Saied himself. Nobody is buying the fact that she will do this on her own basically because of her lack of experience in government and because of Saied himself who appointed himself as the savior of Tunisia.
But time is running out. While he may still be basking in his popular support – a recent pro-Saied rally in central Tunis registered a mass 8000 people - he needs to quickly turn things around - for the man-in-the-street things could quickly move the other way. He could turn out with a government and a prime minister that is every bit in his own image but nothing else!
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