Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 484, 16 February 2022

Tunisia: Presidential decree to create a new judicial watchdog, and consolidate his power
Poulomi Mondal

In the news
On 13 February, Tunisia’s President Kais Saied issued a decree establishing a new provisional Supreme Judiciary Council. He abolished the existing High Judicial Council and has now acquired additional powers to control Tunisia’s top judicial organization. The decree says that the President controls the selection, promotion, appointment, and transfer of judges and, in certain circumstances can act as a disciplinary body in charge of removals. 
 
On the same day, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) stated on Twitter that the decree “consolidates power in the hands of the President,” effectively leading to the termination of “any semblance of judicial independence in the country.”
 
Protestors took to the streets of Tunis, waving flags and chanting: “Shut down the coup…take your hands off the judiciary.” Ambassadors to Tunisia from countries in the G-7 group, inclusive of major donor countries to Tunisia, voiced ‘deep concern’ regarding the dissolution of the judicial council and said that an independent judiciary was essential to democracy. 
 
Issues at large
First, the consolidation of power by the President. Though President Kais Saied’s narrative is on the need for a judicial overhaul to address the inefficiency of its functioning, the real reason is to consolidate his power. Abolition of the high judicial council to be replaced by a provisional council will go against the idea of separation of powers in a democracy and would make the executive stronger.
 
Second, executive vs judiciary. The discontent regarding the inefficiency of the high judicial council among the people justifies the actions taken by the President. Specifically, the issues of rising internal corruption, failures in terrorism rulings and stalling of investigations in high-end assassinations. The conspiracy theories behind these assassinations are also tactfully directed by the President in the debate to mobilize the public sentiments and attack the judiciary.
 
Third, internal opposition. The resignation of Tunisia’s Chief of staff Nadia Akacha, often considered the ‘right-hand’ woman to Saied based on fundamental disagreements highlights that all is not well in the internal power dynamics. Besides, there has been widespread opposition from civil society against the President. It only exposes the conflict between Saied and the Ennhada Islamic movement that presents him with a multi-directional problem at home. 
 
Fourth, external response. While the overt support by UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt for the coup and especially against the Ennhada Islamic movement have been favourable to Kais Saied’s efforts.
 
In perspective
First, the democratic reversal. Steps were taken by the President in July 2021 (suspension of the Parliament, declaring a state of emergency, abolishing democratic constitution, stripping of parliamentary privileges) and in January 2022 (prosecution of opposition political leaders, and the puppeteering of unelected Prime Minister Najla Bpuden) highlights the efforts to consolidate power. This also dismantles democratic pillars like the Constitution, Parliament, and the judiciary.
 
Second, the Tunisian revolution. It has been ten years since the revolution. Tunisia presented a model of democracy and a progressive constitution. Unfortunately, the very same institutions and principles which helped in the Tunisian democratic transition is under threat. 

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