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“It’s not at this age [63 ans – ndlr] that I am going to start a career as a dictator ”, Kais Saied said to a journalist from the New York Times, received at the presidency, five days after having taken exceptional measures at the end of July by decreeing the freezing of Parliament and the dismissal of the head of government.

By quoting General de Gaulle, the Tunisian president assured him that he wanted to take part in an approach similar to the French head of state: to be the savior of a confronted country “To imminent peril”, victim of repeated political blockages and growing public discontent with the ruling class.

Two months after his anti-democratic coup according to his detractors, no longer hides its messianic ambitions: to govern alone and without any checks and balances, without mentioning a deadline for this new regime that is supposed to be “Exceptional and provisional”. On Wednesday September 22, the Tunisian president further strengthened his powers (read here and the our previous articles).

In a presidential decree which extends the state of emergency decreed on July 25 and details the exceptional measures in the face of ” Danger imminent “ from now on “Real” according to the text, it justifies the monopoly on power on the basis of the sovereignty of the people enshrined in article 3 of the constitution, which “Could not express his will and exercise his sovereignty (…) ” In addition to having “Repeatedly expressed its rejection of the mechanisms relating to the exercise of sovereignty”, namely the rejection of Parliament, according to the decree. The result is a “Omnipotent president” according to political scientist Selim Kharrat, “Which decrees a reorganization of the public powers without any valve for its political adversaries”.

Tunisians are in fact deprived, according to the text, of any possible recourse in this regime which will henceforth be legislated by decree-law, while preserving “Rights and freedoms”.

Political reactions have multiplied since this announcement. The Ennahdha party – the Islamist formation largely responsible for the Tunisian political impasse – continues to speak of a “coup”, a line defended since July 25. Islamist party leader and parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi, who also speaks of a return to dictatorship, said the party would join “To any peaceful mobilization aimed at putting Tunisia back on the rails of democracy”.

Other parties on the right and on the left have denounced a “Violation of the constitution which made Kais Saied lose his legitimacy”, according to a statement from several centrist parties. MP Abir Moussi and president of the Free Destourien Party, a fervent opponent of Ennahdha, also denounced “Absolute individual power”. She is one of the only politicians to still be at the top of opinion polls in the event of possible legislative elections, despite an ideology very opposed to that of Kais Saied, in particular in the denial of the revolution.

Neither Bourguiba nor Ben Ali have ever granted themselves such power. It is the first time since independence

Sophie Bessis, historian

It is indeed a turning point that Kais Saied took on September 22. He, who said he wanted to respect the constitution after his coup, changed his tune, speaking of amending the text at the beginning of September and then of changing the regime in his last televised address, on Monday, September 20, in Sidi Bouzid, on cradle of the revolution from which the spark started on December 17, 2011. Not to mention his incessant postponement of the appointment of a head of government that he had nevertheless promised. Now, the only slogan that comes up in his speech is “The people want”.

“What is worrying is his isolation. We see it in his catastrophic communication with his speech in Sidi Bouzid where the national television is warned at the last minute to make a live broadcast, which in addition was interspersed with technical breakdowns, but also in his increasingly belligerent speech towards politicians and those he describes as “traitors” and “thieves” ”, analyzes political scientist Selim Kharrat.

His close entourage, consisting of his brother, Naoufel Saied, one of his former students and now Minister Counselor, Nadia Akacha, and Walid Hajjem, another counselor, defends, for some of them on social networks and in the media, the president’s positions, without really giving any information or agreeing on a common line. Others of his supporters simply refuse to speak for Kais Saied and appear little in the media debates.

Added to this lack of communication is the absence of dialogue with union or association bodies, which says a lot about his vision and his esteem for intermediary bodies. Yet he had received them at the Palace a few days after his coup. The powerful UGTT trade union center, which alerts “Dangers of a concentration of powers”, once again called for dialogue. “Kais Saied monopolizes the constitutional amendment, which represents a danger for democracy”, can we read in the press release. “There is no way out of the crisis, except through dialogue and a participatory approach, against the backdrop of national principles and the sovereignty of Tunisia. “

Civil society, for its part, will position itself on Saturday September 25 and advance with caution according to Selim Kharrat: “Nobody thought he was going to go this far in passing the red lines. In 2011, during the period preceding the election of a constituent, the interim government had not appropriated full powers in this way during the organization of public powers, there were control bodies and a more participatory approach even if it was not perfect. “ Others also point to a civil society desperate by the deep economic and social crisis and fractured. “Many Tunisians believe that a dictatorship is better than a mess, a little as in Egypt in 2013 ”, points an observer.

In this unprecedented period, journalistic and legal debates continue freely and without censorship as evidenced by the chronicles of Haythem El Mekki, journalist, present in the media landscape and influential personality on social networks since the revolution. “For me, the biggest problem is that there is no longer any question of the economic emergency in his rhetoric, whereas in concrete terms, it is this crisis which is currently the most worrying”, advances Haythem El Mekki, who discusses Kais Saied’s measurements every day on the country’s first radio station, Mosaïque FM. “We know that he will move up a gear, dismantle the political system and the parties to implement his political project, but who will take care of the economy ? “, he asks.

We have gone from ten years of learning the remedies and possible guarantors to preserve democracy to the law of the jungle

Selim Kharrat, political scientist

The new presidential decree does mention a head of government but whose function is more akin to a chief of staff or secretary of state since it is mentioned in the text that the President of the Republic “Is assisted” a head of government.The President of the Republic represents the State and guides its general policy and its fundamental choices ”, add text.

The ministers are also now appointed by the presidency, a parade necessary to avoid the scenario provided for by the 2014 Constitution, which required Kais Saied to return to Parliament to vote the confidence of the head of government and his team. ministerial. “It is in this that we can say that he completely left the constitutional framework to avoid the trap in which he had placed himself on July 25, where, by freezing Parliament, he knew he should resume his activities at some point if he wanted to remain within a legal framework “, explains Selim Kharrat.

From now on, the president is the sole master on board. For the moment, no sign of an authoritarian return to the Tunisian streets. The curfew in force for nearly a year because of the health situation will be lifted on Saturday, September 25; the first deputy arrested after the lifting of parliamentary immunity at the end of July, Yassine Ayari, pursued by the military justice, was released after the two months in prison he had to serve, and calls for demonstrations against Kais Saied and his measures exceptional products are currently accepted in public spaces.

Difficult to know what turning point will take this new exceptional regime “But we have gone from ten years of learning the remedies and possible guarantors to preserve democracy to the law of the jungle in concrete terms”, asserts Selim Kharrat who believes that “The time of the street is not that of the politician”. The popularity of the Tunisian president until then unwavering in opinion polls could be undermined if the economic and social crisis catches up with him.

“Tunisians are waiting for solutions to the crisis. But of this Kais Saied does not speak, he has no program. Tunisians are also waiting for him to fight corruption. Concretely, what does he intend to do ? “, abounds the academic Khadija Mohsen-Finan, who sees “Not one hyperprésidentialisation but a real autocratic shift : ” Kais Saied now concentrates all power and will not be accountable to anyone. The role of the head of government he promises will be to eat from his hand. “ “We are drifting towards the dictatorship of one man, we must read the presidential decree. Neither Bourguiba nor Ben Ali have ever granted themselves such power. This is the first time since independence ”, adds historian Sophie Bessis.

“If I take the example of Ben Ali, who was a classic dictator, he never sought to bring down the Tunisian state, continues the researcher. He governed with a party-state that formed the basis, relay throughout the country, with structures in an autocratic manner. There, it is a man alone who will rule by decree-law over all aspects of the life of the country. “

Alone in his palace, Kais Saied definitively buries in a decree the Constitution of 2014, the historical legacy of the revolution of 2011 which earned Tunisia, the only survivor of the Arab uprisings, to be regularly cited as an “exception”, the small “laboratory of democracy” of the Arab-Muslim world.


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