Tunisia, long hailed as the only democratic achievement in the Arab world, is sliding towards authoritarianism and tyranny in the hands of President Kais Saied. In recent months, Saied has decided to monopolize the three branches of political power in the country: the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.
Following mass protests against the government’s inept management of the economy and the COVID-19 pandemic, and in what he claimed was an attempt to fix Tunisia’s problems, Saied suspended parliament on July 25, deprived the deputies of their immunity, dismissed the Prime Minister. and the government, and imposed arbitrary travel bans on public figures he considered corrupt.
Last week, less than two months after this attack on the country’s political ecosystem, Saied said he would rule by decree and ignore parts of the constitution. These measures should sound the alarm bells for democracy supporters around the world.
Saied’s blatant takeover is supported by the authoritarian Arab states of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, on the pretext that it constitutes a legitimate secular war against the Muslim Brotherhood, its “ramifications” (mainly the main Tunisian political party, the Ennahda Movement) and political Islam: a hackneyed narrative intended for national and international consumption and long used by leaders to consolidate an iron grip on the region.
Saied’s recent actions in Tunisia could be the first signs of a shift in the country’s foreign policy and traditional political alliances, away from the United States and the European Union – which have supported Tunisia’s democratic project ever since. the 2010/2011 revolution that toppled longtime dictator Zine. El Abidine Ben Ali – and to the Arab regimes who have done everything in their power to crush the democratic aspirations of their own people over the past decade. Beyond the region, it could also signal a change of alliance towards Moscow and Beijing, both of which have supported the strongman regime in the Middle East and Africa.
Tunisia’s foreign policy is traditionally governed by the Protocol of March 20, 1956, which recognizes its independence from France. France and the West have since remained powerful allies of this small North African nation.
But the measures taken by Saied should reconfigure this partnership and could potentially provoke significant negative reactions from countries like France, Tunisia’s greatest economic ally. This could include the suspension of financial support, demands for repayment of Tunisian debt and support for segments of the Tunisian population who oppose Saied.
Tunisia finds itself in a dangerous and uncertain situation which could have negative ramifications for the region. At best, the country risks increased instability and potential violence: pockets of resistance to Saied’s bold measures are already emerging.
Tunisia’s pro-democracy vanguard and civil society are re-mobilizing themselves again to thwart a return to pre-2011 dictatorship and to save their country from falling into internal conflict. At worst, Tunisia could sink into total chaos, as happened in Lebanon. This too would create new avenues for authoritarian regional and international powers.
How to deal with the political crisis in Tunisia?
The international community must not take Saeid’s coolness and empty assurances that he will protect the country’s democracy at face value, but rather look to the unmistakable progression of the unilateral steps he has taken. Underestimating these progressive seizures of power by personalities with an autocratic tendency is the number of dictatorships that have historically appeared.
The Biden administration must use its influence to insist that Tunisia respect the rights of people as enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Tunisia is a signatory, and reaffirm that it does not The president is not allowed to use the claim of ‘national sovereignty’ as a justification for violations of political and human rights.
There is a Tunisian solution to the Tunisian crisis, but it requires the vocal and firm support of the international community. Tunisia will emerge from this crisis once a new social contract is built between the different political factions, with all parties cooperating in the pursuit of minimum political guarantees for the Tunisian people, and the common goals of freedom, justice and justice. economic recovery.
Europe and the United States should increase the volume of financial aid to Tunisia and not limit it to structural reforms, as they did during the time of the former dictator Ben Ali, nor to facilitate the democratic transition, as was the case just after his ouster. Instead, aid should provide a holistic and integrated package of support: one that covers both aspects but also strengthens the country’s institutions while reforming state structures, especially defense, security, justice and administration. Aid should also support socio-economic development to ensure sustainable growth and a reduction in youth unemployment.
This is the path to stability, sustainable development, sustainable democracy and the fight against radicalization. There is still a possibility for Tunisia to change course and reorient itself on the democratic path which has been the fruit of more than a decade of struggle by its people. The international community must come out to support Tunisia before it is too late.
Adnen Hasnaoui is President of the Maghreb Institute for Sustainable Development, an NGO that works to support the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in North Africa.