Tunisian president promises to launch national dialogue

Kais Saied has vowed to exclude 'traitors' and hear out disenfranchised youth

Tunisian President Kais Saied has promised to launch a "fair and sincere" national dialogue on the country's political and electoral system, a key component in leading the country out of the political crisis that caused him to suspend parliament and sack the previous government in July.

The dialogue will include youth from around the country, he said in a cabinet meeting of the newly installed government on Thursday, but did not specify how the youth would be chosen or what their role would be. He also said he would exclude those who "stole the people's money, and traitors",

The suggestion that some of Tunisia's main political players, including Ennahda, the largest party in parliament and one of Mr Saied's main rivals, might be excluded casts doubt on whether the dialogue will be the inclusive process demanded by civil society, political parties and many of the country's foreign allies.

Earlier in the day the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a resolution on Tunisia that called for “a return to full-fledged democracy and the resumption of parliamentary activity as soon as possible, as part of a national dialogue, and for a clear road map to be announced”.

Mr Saied's slow pace out of the political quagmire has had financial consequences as well. The US Senate Appropriations Committee recently restructured its assistance to Tunisia in its fiscal year 2022 budget, citing concerns about the state of Tunisian democracy. The funding, largely used to bolster the military and security sector, will now be conditional and require a report on the military's role in the country's "democratic backsliding" before a decision on funding can be made.

A bloc of opposition parties have formed a coalition to put pressure on Mr Saied as well. Calling themselves the Co-ordination of Democratic Forces, the group, made up of delegates from four parties, met this week with the head of Tunisia's influential labour union, the UGTT.

A statement released after the meeting stressed "the need for a rapid return to the democratic system, as part of an inclusive process that ensures the conditions for political stability".

"The objective is to address the economic and social difficulties facing the country," it said.

The UGTT was part of a quartet of civil society actors who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 for their role in leading Tunisia out of a post-revolution political crisis through national dialogue in 2013.

Mr Saied, who views political parties and civil society as anathema to a truly democratic process, has long resisted dialogue with those same entities. He instead casts himself as a leader "for the people" and prefers to consult with those loyal to him.

Calls for national dialogue began last November after a breakdown in Parliament and conflicts between the executive and legislative branches, but Mr Saied refused to come to the table.

Updated: October 22nd 2021, 3:58 PM