Understand the unraveling of Tunisia’s revolution

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For years, Tunisia’s democracy, born of an Arab Spring uprising in 2011, endured while others in the region faded. But in July 2021, President Kais Saied unilaterally fired the country’s prime minister and suspended parliament. He has subsequently ruled by decree, appointed his own government and sidelined the judiciary. He has also spearheaded the passage of a new constitution that permanently dilutes the powers of legislatures and courts and returns the country to the days when authority was concentrated in the hands of the president.

1. What Driven the President’s Actions?

The Corona pandemic has had devastating effects both on Tunisia’s tourism-dependent economy and on its population, causing relatively high human losses per capita. inhabitant. Last year, the health crisis fueled public anger at the government, which was already fueled by a sluggish economy and a popular belief that the policy changes of the past decade had served a nepotistic elite. On July 25, 2021, groups of youth organized demonstrations in several cities and in Siliana they fired the offices of Ennahda, the moderate Islamist party that had the most seats in parliament. Later that day, Saied made his move after months of accusing the government of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, a technocrat, of failing to tackle corruption and properly manage the economy and the post-pandemic fallout. While Saied cited these shortcomings as justification for his actions, his critics accuse him of exploiting the country’s poor condition to cement control.

A former professor of constitutional law who had never held office before, Saied, 64, emerged as the surprise winner of the 2019 presidential election after running as an independent candidate on an anti-party and anti-corruption agenda and vowing to fight poverty and trumpeting his main slogan “The People Want…” His stern anti-establishment tone, delivered in classical Arabic, attracted young Tunisians eager to punish a political elite they perceived as opportunistic. Saied proposed eliminating the directly elected legislature in favor of elected local councils that would in turn elect national leaders. He has been compared to former US President Donald Trump in that, despite being in power, he acts as if he is in the opposition and encourages his supporters to rally around him.

3. What happened during Tunisia’s revolution?

It was the first of the so-called Arab Spring uprisings. Beginning in late 2010, Tunisians engaged in weeks of civil resistance and disobedience, resulting in the overthrow of longtime autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. A staunch ally of the West with a government record of human rights abuses, he had presided over one of the most vibrant economies in the region, albeit one with persistent structural inequalities. The news that Ben Ali and his inner circle rushed to leave the country in 2011 prompted many citizens in North Africa and the Middle East to initiate a series of popular uprisings. None of the others produced lasting democratic changes.

4. What changes did the revolution bring?

The so-called Jasmine Revolution expanded political participation to a number of political currents, including the once-banned Ennahda Islamists and radical left activists. Parliament gained a degree of oversight and an ability to hold the executive to account that was rare in the region. The independence of the judiciary was strengthened and civil society was empowered to stand up against police brutality, which was previously widespread.

5. How has the constitution been changed?

A panel chosen by the president drafted the revisions to the 2014 constitution, which were the result of painstaking negotiations among the nation’s myriad factions after the revolution. Its proposal was approved in a referendum on July 25, the credibility of which was undermined by an opposition boycott and a voter turnout of just over 30%. The amendments introduce a national council of regions and provinces that share legislative tasks with parliament, which, together with the judiciary, is relegated to a status similar to that of the civil service. The president assumes “executive functions” and is “assisted” by a government and a prime minister he will name.

6. How are investors likely to react?

Investors are likely to focus on whether a now-powerful Saied can effectively implement painful reforms the International Monetary Fund says are needed to stave off a debt default, rather than the political consequences of his power play. But the relatively low turnout in the referendum illustrates how support for Saied has fallen since he assumed greater powers – which could give greater leverage to his opponents, such as the Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail, the country’s largest trade union, to resist drastic government spending cuts.

More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com

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