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  • Schuyler Beltrami

Tunisian President Dissolves Parliament; Fires Government

After years of unpopular rule, the government of Tunisia was sacked and Parliament was dissolved by the President of Tunisia, Kais Saied on Sunday. The move led to celebratory cheering in the streets of the nation’s capital of Tunis, as the President Saied dispelled rumors of a coup.

President Kais Saied of Tunisia announced the immediate dissolution of Parliament on Sunday. (Photo: Der Spiegel)

On Sunday came the shocking news out of the North African republic of Tunisia that it’s President, Kais Saied, was dissolving the nation’s parliament and sacking the entirety of the country’s government. Immediately accusations of a coup were levied by members of the government and the opposition, while Mr. Saied denied any wrongdoing in his actions. His actions were greeted by cheering and celebrations in the streets of the nation’s capital of Tunis as the government, seen as ineffective, corrupt and the symbol of a failing state by many in the country, was unpopular with many segments of the population. According to Reuters, Preisdent Saied joined his supporters on the streets after news of the dissolution of Parliament and the Government was made public in the country. In a televised statement he warned against armed resistance to his decision warning his opponents that “whoever shoots a bullet, the armed forces will respond with bullets”. Armed military units soon entered the capital and surrounded the parliament building and the state television building in order to calm the threat of an armed riot or protest, even by those celebrating the decision of President Saied.

The current government and political scene of Tunisia was complex and controversial before the Covid-19 pandemic swept over the world, and the lackluster response to the pandemic by the government has only increased its unpopularity and has led to growing calls for change. The pandemic response, combined with rampant corruption and a stagnant economy, led to frequent protests in Tunisia about the inadequacies of the government. These protests were often pointed at the ruling party, Ennahda, and Parliament, but not towards President Saied, a relatively popular independent who is unattached to any party or coalition. Largely spared from the first wave of the pandemic, Tunisia’s case numbers and Covid-related deaths have spiked sharply since October of 2020, with nearly 600.000 cases being reported in a country of just over 11 million people. The rollout of vaccines was also so poorly mismanaged, that President Saied soon ordered the military to oversee the nationwide vaccination program. According to Reuters, only 11% of the population of the country has been fully vaccinated (this low amount is still far better than Tunisia’s neighboring countries of Libya and Algeria, where only 3% and 0,1% of the population have been vaccinated respectively). Unemployment, which has grown every year over the past five years, is another gripe which harmed the popularity of the now ousted government, as unemployment levels reached nearly 17% in the country, according to Statista, and youth unemployment levels are at nearly 36%, forcing many Tunisians to look for work abroad, either in Europe or the richer Middle East.

The former government was led by the moderate Islamic Ennahda party, who had been in power since the Arab Spring, the wave of pro-democracy protests which swept through the Arab world in the beginnings of the 2010’s and which started in Tunisia. Although the Ennahda party only held barely more than a quarter of the seats in the Tunisian Parliament, this amount still made them the strongest party and helped the party to have both the Speaker of the Parliament and the Prime Minister posts allied to them. Former Speaker of the Parliament Rached Ghannouchi labelled the actions of President Saied as a coup and vowed to work together with their main opposition party, Karama, to restore the old government into power.

It is unclear what new path Tunisia will now forge, as the country has at times been considered as a democratic success story in a region of the world devoid of true democracies, but also has been criticized for rampant corruption. The response from the international community has been rather tepid, as the EU, the United States and Tunisia’s neighbors await the next moves of the slightly unpredictable independent President Saied.

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