Tunisia in crisis as president is accused of launching a coup

Kais Saied. Editorial credit: Hussein Eddeb

Tunisia’s president has sparked the biggest crisis since the 2011 revolution by suspending parliament and dismissing Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi of the Islamic-orientated Ennahdha party.

The move by Kais Saied has been condemned as an attack on democracy by his opponents but mainly secular Tunisians greeted it with celebrations in the streets.

The president said that parliament would be suspended for 30 days, though he told reporters the 30-day period could be extended if needed “until the situation settles down.”

The move came after violent protests broke out in several Tunisian cities over the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economy.

Hichem Mechichi. Pic: Wikimedia Commons license

“According to the Constitution, I took decisions that the situation requires in order to save Tunisia, the State and the Tunisian people,” said Kaïs Saïed. “We are going through very delicate moments in the history of Tunisia,” he added. “The president will take over the executive power with the help of a government whose president will be appointed by the head of state.”

The main party in power in Tunisia, Ennahda, immediately denounced “a coup against the revolution and against the Constitution, in a statement published on its Facebook page. And Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the party, observed a sit-in front of parliament in Tunis after being prevented from accessing it by military forces.

On Monday morning, hundreds of people gathered outside Tunisia’s parliament building to pelt their political rivals with stones, bottles and eggs. Hundreds of police stood to separate the supporters and opponents of Tunisia’s president.

Meanwhile, police stormed Al Jazeera’s bureau in the capital Tunis, expelling all the staff, presumably because Al Jazeera is considered to be close to Ennahda.

Rached Ghannouchi. Pic: Wikimedia Commons license

At least 20 heavily armed plainclothes police officers entered the office on Monday, Al Jazeera journalists in Tunis reported, saying the officers did not have warrants for the raid.

“We did not receive any prior notice of the eviction of our office by the security forces,” Lotfi Hajji, Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Tunisia, said.

Turkey, which is close to Ennahdha, said it was “deeply concerned” by the latest development and called for the restoration of “democratic legitimacy” in the country.

“The preservation of Tunisia’s democratic achievements, which is a success story in terms of the democratic process conducted in line with the expectations of people in the region, is of great importance for the region as well as for Tunisia,” the foreign ministry said.

Qatar, also close top Ennahdha, called on all parties in Tunisia’s political crisis to avoid escalation and move towards dialogue, the state-run Qatar News Agency said.

“Qatar hopes that Tunisian parties will adopt the path of dialogue to overcome the crisis,” QNA cited a foreign ministry statement as saying.

The European Union urged all political actors in Tunisia to respect the country’s constitution and avoid violence.

“We are closely following the latest developments in Tunisia,” a spokeswoman for the European Commission said. “We call on all Tunisian actors to respect the Constitution, its institutions and the rule of law. We also call on them to remain calm and to avoid any resort to violence in order to preserve the stability of the country,” she said.

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