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27.07.2021 Europe

Tunisia's main party calls for elections after president sacks more ministers

By RFI
Yassine MAHJOUB AFP
LISTEN JUL 27, 2021
Yassine MAHJOUB AFP

Less than two days after Tunisian President Kais Saied's announcement that he was suspending parliament and dismissing the prime minister, he sacked the ministers of defence, interior and justice amid growing concern that recent moves constitute a coup d'etat.

The main political party, Ennahdha, is now calling for elections.

Coup d'Etat?
Saied met with leaders of Tunisia's civil society on Tuesday, insisting that what he is doing is right for Tunisia.

“For me, this is really a coup d'etat, not a medical coup like that of Ben Ali. Its a coup d'etat against the constitution,” Souhayr Belhassen, honorary president of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) told RFI.

Belhassen  was referring to the departure of Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who was in poor health when he fled the country in January 2011.

Saied has taken measures similar to Ben Ali, who declared a state of emergency following widespread protests in 2011, dissolved parliament, and promised new legislative elections.

In his case, however, the armed forces were behind certain lawmakers, while Saied has dismissed the defence minister.

Article 80 of the constitution says nothing about the limits of these measures, but it does state that the president should have consulted with the head of parliament Rached Ghannouchi as well as the head of the government.

Call for elections
Ghannouchi heads the Islamo-conservative Ennahdha party, and denies having been warned of Saied's moves.  

On Tuesday, Ennahdha announced it is calling for "simultaneous early legislative and presidential elections to guarantee the protection of the democratic process."

It believes that this will prevent an autocratic regime from rising again in Tunisia.

Ennahdha denounced the coup and posted a statement via social media on Tuesday afternoon calling on Tunisians to resist any attempts to divide the country and to 'avoid civil strife'.

As one of the main political parties in Tunisia, it has won all its legislative elections since 2011. However, its popular support has weakened over the years largely because of the perceived lack of vision for the country.

Ennahdha “has neither solved unemployment problems nor boosted economic growth. So there is a  great deal of resentment by Tunisians towards Ennahdha,” Tunisian sociologist Mohammed Kerrou," says.

In addition, the General Union of Tunisian Workers, the country's main union, has supported Saied's actions while calling on him to offer constitutional guarantees.

Tunisians resented the government and parliament, a point that Saied capitalized on, according to FIDH's Belhassen.

“There were two face-to-face powers, the weaker being that of Kais Saied and the stronger being that of parliament and government,” she says.

“Faced with this, the daily was made up of quite minor details and incidents that were inflated by one or the other camp and the health situation. No one took care of it” she adds, referring to the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the points of recent popular protest.

International reaction
The US weighed in on the situation, initially calling on all parties involved not do anything that would lead to violence.

Later, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called on Saied to "urge him to respect democracy" and maintain open dialogue. The head of American diplomacy urged him to "maintain an open dialogue with all political actors and the Tunisian people".

Blinken also pledged American support for the Tunisian economy and the fight against Covid-19.

He also called the abrupt closure of Al-Jazeera television channel office in Tunis particularly troubling.

In France, the spokesperson for foreign affairs noted that France "wants respect for the rule of law and a return, as soon as possible, to normal functioning of the institutions."

Germany, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Nations also expressed concern.

A spokeswoman for Germany's foreign ministry, Maria Adebahr, told reporters that Germany “very worried”, adding, “we don't want to speak of a coup d'etat.”

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