Conflict Alerts # 415, 28 July 2021
In the news
On 25 July, several cities in Tunisia witnessed multiple clashes between the protestors and police. The young crowds shouted "get out" demanding the government to step down. The protestors cited the government's negligence in handling the recent spike of Covid-19 cases and the economic and social turmoil. On the same day, President Kais Saied dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspended the Parliament with the help of the military. He said: "We have taken these decisions… until social peace returns to Tunisia and until we save the state."
On 26 June, Rached Ghannaouchi, the Speaker of the Parliament and the leader of the Ennahda party described the President's decision as "a coup against the revolution and the constitution."
Issues at large
First, the protests before the "coup". Protesters called out the collapse of the health system under the flaring pandemic and socio-economic turmoil. Covid-19 deaths in the country crossed 300 fatalities per day by mid-July. Only seven per cent out of the 12 million total population is fully vaccinated. On 8 July, the health ministry described the situation as "catastrophic" as the health system has "collapsed" under the strain of the pandemic. According to government data, the Tunisian economy had a nine per cent downturn this year. The National Institute of Statistics recorded an unemployment rate of 18 per cent. However, youth unemployment is above 30 per cent. Lack of opportunities with poor economic reforms and development inflamed the public under hard Covid-19 restrictions.
Second, the 'coup'. President Saied's decision to suspend the Parliament is termed a 'coup'. Being a semi-presidential system, Article 80 of the Constitution of Tunisia allows the President to assume executive power for 30 days in a situation of 'immense danger'. However, the Article says it is mandatory to consult with the Prime Minister and the Parliament Speaker. But, the constitutional court which was meant to settle the issue is still not established. Crucially, the 'coup' narrative is under debate.
Third, unstable government and power struggle. Even though President Saied and the Parliament were elected in 2019, it was only in August 2020, after multiple failed attempts, Mechichi took office and formed the government. Since then, the Ennahda party under Ghannaouchi and President Saied continuously squabble over the cabinet reshuffling and the control of security forces. The fragile and short-lived governments stumbled to deal with the public grievances rather focused on internal struggles.
Fourth, Tunisia and the Arab Spring. Tunisia, which ignited the Arab spring in 2011, was regarded as the only success among uprisings. However, the economic crisis, political dissatisfaction and hangover of transition still haunt the country even after the ten years of revolution.
First, Tunisians lost their faith in short-lived governments. As the focus goes back to the political struggles, there will be a further ignorance of the real issues that are essentially needed to be addressed. Second, but President Saied's efforts are the last hope for Tunisians. His power grab is an experiment on Tunisian democracy. Third, the 'coup' accusation by the opposition has now confused the public creating a fence between the supporters and the opponents. The confusion will potentially facilitate the ongoing protests.