Newsletter N°23 - September 2021
Tunisia needs a new push for national dialogue
This summer an outbreak of street violence against parties’ headquarters led to an unscrupulous coup from above that threatens the impressive democratic achievements that had made Tunisia the shining example of the Arab Spring.
It was the president himself, Kais Saied, elected two years ago, who used the violence as a pretext. He lifted the immunity of parliamentarians and revoked the Head of Government. Saied furthermore announced that he will take control of the public prosecutor’s office. In doing this, he has in effect put an end to the separation of powers that are the basis of all modern democracies.
He has done so invoking Article 80 of the democratic constitution that was drafted in a nation-wide, participatory process in 2014 - after the uprising which toppled long-time dictator Ben Ali three years earlier. But Article 80 does not grant the President powers to suspend Parliament, nor to take control of the judiciary. In fact, it explicitly requires the President to consult with both the Head of Government and the Parliament and imposes on him a duty to return to the normal functioning of government as quickly as possible. According to the Constitution, the parliament is considered to be permanently in session and no motion of censure against the government can be presented, during a state of emergency.
Tunisia, once hailed as a beacon of hope for democracy in the region, has therefore taken a dangerous turn towards autocracy. Many people, including politicians, judges, members of civil society as well as businessmen and women, have been banned from travelling. Others have been put under house arrest, without legal grounds. Prominent members of the opposition, such as Yassine Ayari, have been arrested and will have to appear before the military court. The state of emergency has been extended indefinitely - past the 30-day deadline for a Constitutional Court review, as no such court currently exists.
These recent developments have taken place against a background of a prolonged economic crisis, aggravated by the pandemic. The government had been struggling to face up to these challenges, limited in action by economic reforms required by the IMF and the World Bank and by slow vaccine roll-out. Parliament’s failure to overcome party differences to tackle the double crisis, along with President Saied’s refusal to accept the newly-elected Ministers in a cabinet reshuffle, has led Tunisian citizens to lose all confidence in the elected politicians and even to welcome this coup by part of the executive branch against other constitutional powers.
Tunisia, which hosted the Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy in 2015, experienced a peaceful transition to democracy which was crowned by the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015. It was the achievement of all Tunisians, and it will take all Tunisians to return to the hope of the Arab Spring. The solution to the institutional deadlock in Tunisia that prevailed before July 25 is more democracy, not less. Democrats from around the world, to help a return to the democratic process please read and share our open letter here.
Global Manager PR & Community Building, Democracy International