Tunisian Nobel Peace Prize-winning coalition begins talks on inclusive national dialogue

Tunisian labour union, legal society and human rights league seek solution to country's current political crisis

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Talks between Tunisia's most powerful civil society groups began on Wednesday in an attempt to forge a national dialogue amid worsening economic conditions and a growing centralisation of power under President Kais Saied, a union spokesman told The National.

Discussions between the Tunisian General Labour Union — known as UGTT — the Tunisian National Lawyers’ Bar and the Tunisian League for Human Rights will include a broad spectrum of civil society, UGTT representative Sami Tahri said.

“We are still in the first stage of conducting discussions; we’ll announce the outcome of these initial talks after the new year,” he added.

The current initiative brings together members of the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize-winning coalition, the National Dialogue Quartet.

Tunisia has been in political deadlock since Mr Saied's power grab on July 25, 2021. A recent first round of parliamentary elections had the lowest turnout in the country’s history at 11.22 per cent.

Observers criticised the elections as another attempt by the President to cement his one-man rule.

Meanwhile, Tunisia has been suffering through its worst economic crisis to date, with an inflation rate that is expected to reach 10.5 per cent in 2023, as well as ongoing food shortages.

Mr Saied launched a national dialogue back in September, however it was boycotted by the majority of political and civil society due to its exclusionary nature.

“Democracy must be practised within the institutions of the state — it cannot target its existence and unity,” Mr Saied said in a meeting with Prime Minister Najla Bouden on Tuesday.

“Those who contributed to striking the state and tried in every way to dismantle its institutions cannot present themselves as saviour.”

UGTT and its civil society allies rebutted Mr Saied’s claims and accused him of adopting an “unprecedented isolationist” approach.

“There is no such thing as a dialogue against state institutions,” union spokesman Mr Tahri told Radio Mosaique on Wednesday.

“We are rather negotiating a way to get out of the crisis with the least possible cost and damage, and with the least possible divisions and fragmentation.”

Mr Tahri reiterated these sentiments in a phone call with The National on Wednesday, saying: “We will not stay still as the country goes into doom.”

Updated: December 28, 2022, 7:07 PM