Tunisia’s Ghannouchi calls for a return to democracy

In an interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP), Tunisia’s parliamentary speaker Rached Ghannouchi has called for a return to democracy after President Kais Saied’s shocking seizure of power over the weekend, the suspension of parliament and the dismissal of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi.

Ghannouchi, also the leader of one of the leading parties in parliament, Ennahdha, lamented the lack of dialogue with the presidency and warned that if no agreement is reached on the formation of a government and the resumption of the legislature, “we will invite the Tunisian people to defend without democracy. “

“There is no dialogue today with the president or with his advisers. But we believe we need a national dialogue,” Ghannouchi said. pressure – to get democracy back. “

Asked if he would be ready to negotiate with the president after he was accused of carrying out the coup, Ghannouchi claimed that he and his party were ready to “make all concessions so that democracy can return to Tunisia.”

“The Tunisian constitution is more important than maintaining power. We are always ready for any concessions in connection with a return to democracy, and not the introduction of dictatorships and coups.”

Ghannouchi said Saied used the absence of a constitutional court to monopolize the interpretation of the constitution and to “make himself a constitutional court” and blamed parliament for failing to set up a constitutional court.

“It’s a mistake where we all bear some of the responsibility,” Ghannouchi said.

“Since the beginning, we have called on the people to fight the coup with all peaceful means, and this resistance will continue with peaceful means,” he added. “If there is no agreement on the return of Parliament, on the formation of a government and its presentation to Parliament, the Tunisian street will undoubtedly mobilize, and we will invite the Tunisian people to defend their democracy.”

As the birthplace of the Arab Spring, Tunisia was considered the only example of democratic success in the Arab wave of protests in 2011, when the administration handed over its achievements in the field of fundamental rights and freedoms through elections to its successors.

But Tunisia has not been able to achieve political stability and thus economic stability during the turbulent transition it entered after the Arab Spring. More than ten governments have taken office in the country in the last ten years. The revolution failed to live up to its promises, such as employment opportunities, and the economic situation of ordinary Tunisians became more complicated every day due to the global storm caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

During Republic Day on July 25, mass protests were held in Tunisia against the political atmosphere throughout the country, and attacks were carried out on the headquarters of some political parties.

Saied said he would use “extraordinary constitutional powers” to “prevent the country from being drawn into civil war” after meeting with the security bureaucracy and military commanders earlier in the evening. He announced that he had fired the Prime Minister, suspended Parliament for 30 days and would appoint a new Prime Minister and take over the executive branch.

Ghannouchi, who was accompanied by deputies, was not allowed to enter the country’s military. He urged the people to protest peacefully against Saied’s decision, calling them a “coup”, which has no legal basis.

In the following days, Saied dismissed defense and justice ministers from office and fired several top officials, including the army’s chief prosecutor. On Wednesday, the CEO of the national television channel Wataniya was fired from office.

In addition, Saied has waived parliamentary immunity from legislators and taken legal powers into his hands. He also ordered an inquiry into the three main political parties in parliament, including Ennahdha. The probe claimed that all three parties received foreign funds before the 2019 election.

Four days after the coup, Saied accused 460 businessmen of embezzlement. He threw away the “bad financial choices” made in recent years during a meeting with a leader of the UTICA employers’ association. In his remarks late Wednesday, the president for criticism singled out “those who plunder public money.”

Saied is a former professor of constitutional law and was among a delegation of experts studying the Tunisian constitution, which was adopted in 2014 after the Arab Spring. He participated in the race as an independent candidate in the 2019 presidential election and managed to qualify for the runoff. In 2019, with his unusual campaign benefiting from the popular “revolution” theme of the time, he won a landslide victory in the second round of general elections.

Attracting the attention of the international press with its strong rhetoric, where he dominated the use of classical Arabic, Saied stood out in the country’s political structure with his defense of a system created by individuals rather than political parties.

How did Tunisia get to this point?

The Ennahda movement won the parliamentary elections held at the same time as the presidential elections in 2019. It took the first position with 52 legislators in parliament with 217 seats but failed to get a majority that could form the government alone.

Tunisia has experienced many episodes of political turmoil in parliament since 2019.

The technocrat cabinet of Prime Minister Mechichi, whom Saied appointed in July 2020 as the third prime minister in the last two years, entered parliament with the support of parties such as Ennahda and the Heart of Tunisia party.

However, the gap between Saied and Mechichi has become open to public opinion. Saied claimed in February that Mechichi’s cabinet repair was unconstitutional. Despite this, Parliament gave the Cabinet a vote of confidence. While tensions have sometimes escalated between the two with reciprocal statements, the fact that political actors have played a role in this relaxation has deepened the crisis.

The fact that the Constitutional Court, set out in the 2014 Constitution with the power to finally resolve the issue, has not yet been established has also made the crisis even more unresolved.

As this state and political disintegration deepened, Tunisia continued to struggle with crises exacerbated by the difficult economic and health conditions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

In May, the British-based Middle East Eye website published a plan for Saied’s advisers to use Article 80 of the Tunisian constitution under extraordinary circumstances to extend the president’s powers, enabling him to seize government power. He dismissed the allegations, saying “Tunisia has left after the coup,” according to the Anadolu Agency (AA).

There were various reactions within the country to the president’s announcements to interrupt parliament and dismiss the prime minister. Some Tunisians celebrated the president’s decision with fireworks, while others protested on the grounds that it was a coup attempt.

On Monday, supporters and opponents of the resolutions met in front of parliament. Security forces took heavy measures. There were occasional accidents between protesters and security forces who tried to prevent a possible confrontation between the two sides decisively.

Reactions at various levels have been raised from political parties in parliament, including the Ennahda movement, as the largest party, and the heart of Tunisia as the second largest. Some parties said the president had violated the constitution and overused his powers with this step, while Ennahda and the Dignity Coalition accused Saied of attempting a coup.

On the other hand, the People’s Movement, which also supported Saied after the election process, the Popular Front and finally the former old Free Constitution Party regime announced that they support his steps.

Most countries in the region and Western democracies have meanwhile adopted a “wait and see” approach.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken declined to take a firm stand on the events during a meeting with Saied. In a statement, Blinken urged the Tunisian president to adhere to democracy and human rights principles and to continue the dialogue with all political actors and the Tunisian people, saying that the United States continues to monitor the situation closely.

The European Union has called on all actors in Tunisia to respect the country’s constitution and to refrain from violence. Germany and France avoided describing the development as a “coup attempt” and demanded the rule of law and abstained from violence.

The Gulf monarchies, known for their interventions in post-Arab spring administrations, have largely chosen to remain silent. Bahrain “wants Tunisia to develop for greater stability and prosperity”, while Qatar, known for its foreign policy outside its Gulf neighbors, called for calm from all sides.


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