Tunisia: Did Kais Saied Turn Against Democracy?
The Tunisian people nor its youth, who led the Jasmine Revolution in 2011, never expected that a day would come for their country and the system of government would turn into an absolute presidential system, just as most international political circles did not expect that one person would be able to curb and stop the democratic process in Tunisia.
However, the truth is that President Kais Saied did not disappoint only the hopes of his people but also shocked the whole world. With his tough decisions and twisted methods of silencing his opponents, dismissing those who disagree with him, interfering in the judiciary system, and tampering with the Tunisian constitution, which until recently was considered one of the most developed models in the Arab world.
President Kais Saied, like many third-world leaders, is using the slogan of fighting terrorism and repelling the Muslim Brotherhood movement as a pretext to seize power.
The Tunisian president is doing what the ruling military junta did in Algeria in the nineties when its coup against the results of the municipal elections caused the outbreak of a bloody black decade that took the lives of thousands of Algerian citizens.
Tunisia today is living something like a transitional phase, which Kais Saied calls a corrective movement. At the same time, most Tunisian people see it as a dictatorial maneuver, a complete abolition of the opinion and voice of the street, and an end to human rights and political achievements.
After disrupting the work of constitutional institutions, especially parliament, dismissing dozens of judges and the prime minister, the Tunisian president organized a referendum on the constitution, a measure boycotted by most Tunisians and challenged by the Tunisian Supreme Court.
International Concern and Calls for Respecting the Aspirations of All Tunisians
Many countries of the world opposed the decisions of Mr. Kais Saied, calling for an honest and credible democratic process in the country.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement calling on the Tunisian president to preserve the gains of the Tunisian people and respect their aspirations.
“We share the concerns of many Tunisians that the process of drafting the new constitution has limited the scope for real debate and that the new constitution could weaken democracy in Tunisia and undermine respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. A comprehensive and transparent reform process is critical to restoring the confidence of millions of Tunisians who have not participated in this referendum or oppose the new constitution.”
The European Union, for its part, issued a statement asking not to prejudice the democratic gains of the Tunisian people.
The European Union records the provisional results of the constitutional referendum in Tunisia on July 25, 2022, characterized by a low participation rate.
A broad consensus between the various political forces, including political parties and civil society, is necessary for the success of a path that preserves democratic gains.
For all the essential political and economic reforms that Tunisia will undertake, the legitimacy and sustainability of these reforms depend on that.”
The position of the United Kingdom was explicit in its demand for the necessity of involving all civil society institutions and ensuring the independence of the judiciary.
In a statement on Wednesday, July 27, 2022, Lord Tariq Mahmud Ahmed, Minister of State for South and Central Asia and North Africa at the Foreign Office of the United Kingdom, said that engaging key stakeholders – including political parties, civil society organizations, trade unions, and the media – and genuine public debate are essential. It is necessary to face the upcoming political and economic challenges, and to support the legitimacy and validity of structural reforms in Tunisia, given the low level of participation witnessed in the referendum process and fears related to the lack of an inclusive and transparent process, which the United Kingdom noted with its partners, the United States of America and the European Union, as he put it.
International reactions were not limited to the statements but also diplomatic action.
In mid-August, a delegation from the U.S. Congress visited the Tunisian capital, during which it met with President Said.
The Tunisian presidency presented its reading of this visit, stressing that President Kais Saied protested to the congressional delegation, describing the statements of some U.S. officials as unacceptable.
On August 30, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Alef visited Tunisia. This visit caused observers to raise several questions about whether the aim was to calm the atmosphere or to establish new means of dealing with President Kais Saied after The Tunisian Foreign Ministry had summoned the Chargé d’Affairs of the U.S. Embassy to protest the statements of some U.S. officials.
Threatening to withhold U.S. Aid
After the visit of members of the U.S. Congress to Africa, during which they visited the Tunisian capital, Senator Chris Coons said:
“At its meeting this fall, the Millennium Challenge Corporation will discuss the potential suspension of its $500 million aid to Tunisia due to these democratic setbacks”.
Although the Tunisian president committed himself during his meeting with American officials
“Organizing free and fair elections in the fall to renew the House of Representatives.”
The senator, who chairs the committee in charge of U.S. foreign aid, said, “I hope he keeps his promise.”
This new announcement comes in line with the decision of the U.S. State Department last May to reduce nearly half of its financial support to Tunisia.
“Because of the uncertainties affecting the direction of political life in Tunisia.”
Last month, dozens of members of the House of Representatives urged their colleagues through a joint text to link aid to Tunisia with respect for democratic rules and human rights.
Sarah Yerkes, a researcher, specializing in Middle East affairs at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, considered it unlikely that the suspension of aid would be enough to persuade the Tunisian authorities to back down from what she described as “authoritarian hands.”
What is Kais Saeid Risking?
Very few deny that the Tunisian president’s decisions are reckless.
The man’s experience as a constitutional law professor does not justify his repeated infringements on the constitutional rights of the Tunisian people. However, these abuses may have dire consequences at both Tunisia and regional levels.
The Tunisian economic situation is experiencing its most difficult years since the spread of the Corona pandemic, and tourism, which constitutes one of the most vital sources for the country’s economy, is declining.
The mere answer to too many questions does not and will not spare the country the scourge and consequences of a break with democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
Capital is cowardly – as economists say – and stability was and will continue to be the most significant catalyst for foreign investments, so President Kais Saied is gambling with Tunisia’s security, stability, and social peace.
The Tunisian people, imbued with the values of coexistence and tolerance, did not tolerate the killers of Farhat Hachad, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and certainly will not tolerate Kais Saied, whatever his academic degrees.
When the Tunisian people rise and revolt, they do not rest until they achieve their goals and obtain their rights. Those were the outcomes of the 2011 revolution and the mass action that followed for democracy.
The lie of the “Correction Project” behind which no one can deceive the Tunisian president hides and the exaggeration of the Islamic movements is an invalid argument by evidence and practice.
Neighboring Tunisia, Morocco experienced the rule of Islamists for ten years, and they did not overturn the constitution, nor did they undermine the country’s democratic foundations.
However, President Kais Saied chose for Tunisia the bloody Algerian example that took away legitimacy from the rule in Algeria, and now it is dropping it from Tunisia.
American taxpayers’ money should not go to support dictatorship and oppression. Instead, we need this money to reform our infrastructure and develop our educational and health institutions.
Any U.S. financial support to President Kais Saeid is a betrayal of the principles of our nation and a waste of the money of the American people.
If we do not stand today with the Tunisian people and support their right to enjoy elected constitutional institutions and an independent judicial system, we are stabbing them in their backs while allying with the injustice against them.
The experience of the black decade in Algeria, if repeated in Tunisia, will be horrific and horrific. The spread of arms in neighboring Libya and the Sahel is a flammable powder keg and putting out its fire will not be an easy task.
Beware, not only democracy in Tunisia is in danger, but the whole region is in danger.
Tunisia – Kais Saied – Muslim Brotherhood