‘A parade of red flags’: what next for Tunisia after Kais Saied’s extension of power?

The Tunisian president has called Parliament a ‘threat to the country’

Politicians and experts have expressed concern about the situation in Tunisia a day after President Kais Saied said that he would be indefinitely extending his sole control of the government.

Although Mr Saied enjoys considerable public support, many politicians are concerned about the lack of checks on the president’s power and where such an extension may lead.

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For the first time in the history of Tunisia, a legal and constitutional vacuum has occurred in this way
Former cabinet director Reda Belhaj

Ennahda, the largest party in Tunisia’s Parliament, issued a statement of concern following Tuesday's announcement. It called for Mr Saied to “return to the democratic path” and affirmed “the adoption of dialogue as the only way to solve various problems”.

Since taking his exceptional measures on July 25, Mr Saied has become increasingly isolated. He has refused to meet with political parties and civil society organisations, regardless of whether they support his actions.

Monica Marks,an assistant professor of Middle East politics at NYU Abu Dhabi and a close watcher of Tunisia, says Mr Saied’s refusal to incorporate the country’s robust civil society into his decision-making process is only one concern in “a parade of red flags”.

“They point to a president who is not dialoguing, who is not inclusive,” she said.

In July, Mr Saied invoked an article in the constitution that gives the president exceptional powers in times of “imminent danger”.

The initial 30-day exceptional period ended on Tuesday, but without a constitutional court to review the decision, he extended it.

In a meeting with the minister of trade and export development, a video of which was published on the presidency Facebook page on Tuesday, Mr Saied defended his actions.

“Regarding the exceptional measures, they have been extended because of the imminent danger. It is a persistent danger. The existing political institutions, as they used to function, are a persistent threat to the state. The parliament itself is a threat to the state,” he said.

Sources close to the palace say it is possible he will extend his sole control of the government until the next election, scheduled for 2024.

Ridha Belhadj, the former Cabinet director under President Beji Caied Essebsi, told Shems FM that the extension was a complete departure from the constitution.

“For the first time in the history of Tunisia, a legal and constitutional vacuum has occurred in this way,” he said.

Many who support Mr Saied’s vision for the country still have concerns.

Lassaad Yacoubi, the Secretary General of Education for the powerful Tunisian General Labour Union, which supported Mr Saied’s consolidation early on, told state radio Wednesday he supports the president’s vision for political reform.

“I would be happy if the parliament were dissolved, if the constitution were suspended, if a new government composed of socially rooted non-technocrats who don’t belong to the previous order” were put in place, he said.

But Mr Yacoubi said he wants new elections to be held, and for them to include parties, a departure from Mr Saied who rejects the idea of parties.

Updated: August 26th 2021, 11:20 AM
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