Tunisia President Kais Saied's top aide quits over 'fundamental differences'

Nadia Akacha had been the leader's closest confidante since his 2019 presidential campaign

After Kais Saied's election, Nadia Akacha became the conduit for almost all interactions with the president, largely shielding him from dialogue with Tunisia's robust civil society or powerful trade unions. Photo: AFP

Tunisian President Kais Saied's chief of staff and closest adviser said on Monday she had resigned owing to "fundamental differences in opinion" over the country's interests.

Nadia Akacha has been Mr Saied's closest aide since he rose to office in 2019.

She holds a role that has only increased in importance since July, when Mr Saied suspended parliament and assumed sole control of the country, said Monica Marks, an assistant professor of Middle Eastern politics at NYU Abu Dhabi.

"Nadia Akacha was widely viewed amongst insiders as the closest adviser to Kais Saied, one of only two or three people, including the current Minister of Interior, who has any kind of regular access to him," Ms Marks said.

Ms Marks said that such close access, in a time when Mr Saied had grown increasingly politically isolated, meant for the past few months Ms Akacha "was far more important than Tunisia’s democratically elected parliament, which Mr Saied froze on July 25".

Ms Akacha announced her resignation in a public Facebook post – the medium often preferred by the Saied regime for communication. She wrote in the post: "I decided to resign after two years ... I am faced with fundamental differences in opinion regarding [Tunisia's] best interests and I think it is my duty to withdraw", without further elaboration.

There was no immediate comment or official confirmation of her resignation from the presidential palace.

Ms Akacha was a major organiser for Mr Saied's 2019 campaign, co-ordinating with local staff and grass-roots volunteers across the country to push forward their unusual candidate — a political outsider with no governing experience and radical ideas about decentralised power.

After his election, she became the conduit for almost all interactions with him, largely shielding him from dialogue with Tunisia's robust civil society or powerful trade unions, all vying for a seat at the table to discuss Tunisia's future.

Several other senior advisers had also quit working for Mr Saied in recent months, including his economic adviser and European affairs adviser. Not all of those who left have been replaced.

"Ms Akacha's resignation highlights Kais Saied's profoundly limited team-building and managerial abilities," said Ms Marks. "His vision has been far too radical and his managerial approach far too exclusionary to include anyone, even his seemingly closest and most doggedly loyal advisers."

Mr Saied's seizure of broad powers and plans to redraw the constitution have cast Tunisia's decade-old democratic system into doubt and hindered its quest for an international rescue plan for its public finances.

Tunisia's President Kais Saied. Photo: Reuters

The president has initiated an online public consultation before drafting a new constitution that he says will be put to a referendum in July, but has not brought major political or civil society players into the process.

Although his actions appeared to have broad support at first among Tunisians weary of economic stagnation and political paralysis, his recent poll numbers have slipped dramatically and political leaders have voiced increasing opposition.

On January 19, a Tunisian protester died after Revolution Day clashes with police. The man died in hospital from injuries inflicted by police, according to activists and the main opposition Ennahda party.

Updated: January 25, 2022, 10:45 AM
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