Tunisian president launches a coup
Tunisia’s president has sacked the PM and suspended parliament, after violent mass protests nationwide on Sunday.
President Kais Saied, who was elected in 2019, announced he was taking over.
His supporters erupted in celebration, but opponents in parliament immediately accused him of staging a coup. Protests erupted outside of parliament today, many calling Saied a dictator. Clashes among rival groups continued on Monday.
They threw stones at each other outside the legislature, which has been barricaded by troops, who have also prevented workers from entering some government buildings.
Mr Saied, an independent, has had a long-standing feud with the man he has removed, PM Hichem Mechichi. Mr Mechichi has the backing of the largest party in parliament, Ennahda.
Tunisia’s revolution in 2011 is often held up as the sole success of the Arab Spring revolts across the region, but it has not led to stability economically or politically.
Saied’s action followed months of deadlock and disputes pitting him against Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and a fragmented parliament as Tunisia descended into an economic crisis exacerbated by one of Africa’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks.
The military surrounded the parliament and government palace, stopping MPs and state workers from entering the buildings, as well as the national television station.
Saied, who invoked emergency powers under the constitution late on Sunday to dismiss Mechichi and suspend parliament for 30 days, on Monday stopped travel between cities for a month and tightened pandemic curfew restrictions.
He also reiterated a long existing rule that has not been commonly observed banning public gatherings of three or more people in streets or squares.
Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, the head of Ennahda, which has played a role in successive coalition governments, condemned it as an assault on democracy and urged Tunisians to take to the streets in opposition.
“Kais Saied is dragging the country into catastrophe,” he told Turkish television.
Dismissed Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi said he cannot be a disruptive element, and he will hand the responsibility to whomever the president chooses, in a step that may ease the North African country’s tough political crisis.
“In order to preserve the safety of all Tunisians, I declare that I align myself, as I have always, by the side of our people, and declare that I will not take up any position or responsibility in the state,” said Mechichi in a statement on Facebook.
Mechichi added in statement that he is ready to serve Tunisia from any location.
Tunisian police also stormed Al Jazeera’s bureau in the capital Tunis, expelling all the staff.
Saied has said any violent opposition will be met with force.
Tunisia’s largest workers union has refrained from denouncing the measures taken by President Kais Saied in its first official response to the sacking of the prime minister and freezing of parliament.
The UGTT’s position comes as the largest political parties have declared their rejection of the president’s move.
The Heart of Tunisia party and the Dignity Coalition condemned Said’s decision, while the Democratic Current party, which previously supported Saied on many occasions, has rejected his decision to assume all powers.
In a statement on Monday, the Democratic Current held the Ennahda party and the Mechichi government responsible for “the legitimate popular tensions, the social, economic and health crisis, and the blockage of the political horizon.”
The Tunisian Workers’ Party issued a statement saying that “what President Kais Saied did is a clear violation of the constitution, an anti-democratic measure, and the beginning of a coup d’etat.”
Likewise, the Republican Party dismissed Saied’s decisions as “an outright coup against the constitution.”
Meanwhile, the Independent High Electoral Commission, which has overseen elections since the 2011 revolution, declared its opposition to Saied’s decisions.
Internal issues played a factor
The move came following mass demonstrations in several Tunisian cities earlier on Sunday.
Protesters demanded the government’s removal after a spike in COVID-19 cases that aggravated economic troubles. Offices of the Ennahdha party were also attacked.
Throwing stones and shouting slogans, the protesters demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and the dissolution of Parliament.
Witnesses said protesters stormed or tried to storm Ennahdha offices in Monastir, Sfax, El Kef and Sousse, while in Touzeur they set fire to the party’s local headquarters.
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated Tunisia’s economic woes as unemployment surged and state services declined.
The growing political schisms and Tunisia’s weary economy are in line with an ongoing struggle for dominance in Tunisia’s parliament.
Saied says he is trying to avert a looming fiscal crisis amid a weeks-long spike in COVID cases and increased death rates.
Earlier this month, Tunisia’s health ministry said the country’ healthcare system had “collapsed” under the weight of the pandemic, which has caused more than 17,000 deaths in a population of about 12 million.
Saied and the parliament were elected in separate popular votes in 2019, while Mechichi took office last year, replacing another short-lived government.
But it is not the first time a government has been short-lived in Tunisia since the 2011 revolution that led to the overthrow of longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
After months of failed attempts to form a government, Elyes Fakhfakh became PM in January 2020 but was forced out within months over a corruption scandal.
Months later, Mechichi was named prime minister but has been enmeshed in political disputes with Saied for more than a year. His fragile government lurched from crisis to crisis as it struggled to deal with the pandemic and the need for urgent reforms.
Over the past decade, the country has faced a series of challenges, including recurring attacks by ISIL (ISIS) that devastated the country’s vital tourism sector and were a major contributor to the economic decline, which approached a crisis point in 2017.
The UAE accused of being behind the coup
Since the coup erupted on Sunday, many have pointed to the UAE as the main actor behind the successful execution of the coup.
Dr Andreas Kraig, on twitter stated,
“The #UAE have long worked behind the scenes in #Tunisia to induce a coup pretext like in Egypt 2013 that the military could exploit – like in #Egypt it was directed against Ennahda as an MB-linked org – Abu Dhabi has been sponsoring a range of individuals on the ground”
Former Tunisia President Marzouki also made a similar statement: ‘I have no doubt that the UAE is behind this coup’
Tunisia’s parliament head Rached Ghannouchi also accused UAE media of pushing for coup, targeting Ennahda movement.
The UAE has had an increasing political presence in Libya in recent years. Tunisian politics have become a battleground for rival Gulf states since the overthrow of longtime ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.
Last year, a report by the Lens Post claimed that a Middle Eastern media outlet, the Facebook page of the Salvation Front, active as Harak al-Aksheedi, is run by “two people in the United Arab Emirates”.
“This raises suspicions about the size of the Emirates’ interference in Tunisian affairs,” the Lens Post said in an article on Friday.
Ouerfelli was not available for comment, but denied any foreign interference during a press conference, saying that: “Only Tunisia’s affairs matters.”
A month earlier, El Watan, an independent French-language newspaper in Algeria, cited several Middle Eastern media outlets, including the London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi, as reporting that Turkish intelligence had foiled a coup attempt in Tunisia coordinated by the UAE. The first act of the coup, said Al-Quds al-Arabi, was to begin on 13 June with anti-government demonstrations.
According to Turkish sources, the demonstrations were to be prepared and led by personalities linked to Ben Ali and “certain leaders of organisations affiliated with the Tunisian left, who did not succeed in making a place in parliament during the last legislative elections.”
The Lens Post reported: “The planned coup in Tunisia aims overall to reproduce the scenario set up in Egypt to bring [Abdel Fattah] el-Sisi to power”, as well as the “demonisation of the Ennahdha movement”.
The ploy would have been used “to prepare the coming to power of a subservient figure in Abu Dhabi who was asked to apply to the letter the agenda of Abu Dhabi in Libya and the region,” the Lens Post wrote.
There is therefore some compelling secondary evidence in the form of various reports that correlate to the narrative that the UAE has been attempting to establish a coup in Tunisia. However, there is no concrete primary evidence to definitively state this as a fact. The UAE has long criticized and tried to undercut the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates in the Middle East, including the Moderate Islamist El Nahda in Tunisia, who are now the main victims of the latest coup.