On July 25, 2021, Tunisia’s President, Kais Saied, used his emergency powers to decommission parliament and dismiss the Prime Minister. Saied claims that he did so per article 80 of Tunisia’s constitution, which allows him to use “exceptional measures in the event of imminent danger” for 30 days. At the time, the Ennahda Movement, an Islamist political party, was facing violent protests. Citizens have also been criticizing the government for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has created economic instability in a country already dealing with other forms of poverty and socioeconomic inequalities. As such, Saeid not only believes he is justified, but according to a poll conducted after the act, only 3% of Tunisians disagreed with his actions while 87% were in full support. However, many critics are calling Saied’s actions unconstitutional with multiple headlines referring to Saied’s takeover as a coup, a crisis and an affront to the democracy that the nation has worked to attain over the years. Still, many believe that a silver lining in Tunisia’s crisis exists.
Tunisia has a history of political turmoil, poverty and inequality, beginning with the Arab Spring rebellions about a decade ago. These bloody protests resulted in the removal of Tunisia’s then-dictator of 27 years, turning the country into the first and only democracy to come out of the rebellions.
Unfortunately, Tunisia and its people have not had it easy since then. In fact, “for many Tunisians, it has been a decade of disappointment.” One man, Aroussi Mejri, claimed that “from what we’ve seen so far, democracy has no value,” and asked, “why did we revolt?” Tunisia has experienced increased unemployment rates of around 17%, a declining economy that, in the last year, has diminished by 8% and a corrupt government that has done little to help. As a result, some Tunisians have resorted to leaving the country or even suicide.
The last straw, it seems, was the government’s poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which exacerbated all of the aforementioned issues. Therefore, when President Kais Saied used his emergency powers to take control of the government, many Tunisians flooded the streets to show their support. For them, Saied is a silver lining in Tunisia’s crisis that has always been there.
Backlash After President Kais Saied’s Actions
When President Kais Saied took control of the government in Tunisia, headlines criticized and attacked Saied, referring to his takeover as a “coup,” “crisis” and “unconstitutional power grab.” In a United States Department of State press statement about the situation, Department Spokesperson Ned Price said, “Tunisia must not squander its democratic gains,” referring to the country’s time as an autocracy before the Arab Spring rebellions.
Criticisms of Saied continued as police attacked Al Jazeera offices in Tunis and detained Vivian Yee, a New York Times reporter, for two hours. Between assuming absolute power over the government and targeting journalists, some fear a return to authoritarian rule in Tunisia.
Support of President Kais Saied’s Actions
Shocking to many on the outside looking in, most Tunisians support President Kais Saied’s acquisition of power. This is because all of Tunisia’s governments after the Arab Spring rebellions have failed to fix poverty and inequality in the country, including the current government. As a matter of fact, according to Arab Barometer, in March 2021, three-fourths of the country claimed to be dissatisfied with the nation’s education system and two-thirds with the healthcare system. Only 10% do not believe Tunisia’s government is corrupt in some way. Tunisians are hoping that Saied can make a change and be the silver lining in Tunisia’s crisis.
The Silver Lining
Some news outlets and westerners might find that the silver lining in Tunisia’s crisis is its democracy and the reestablishment of Tunisia’s government, while most Tunisians might find that it is President Kais Saied. However, with so many questions left to answer about Saied’s intentions and what the future will hold, one could determine that Tunisia’s silver lining is really the aid that the country has received amid the chaos. For instance, with COVID-19 cases and related deaths increasing rapidly during the protests surrounding Saied’s coup, the country has received millions of coronavirus vaccine donations from other countries. Whether or not this is because of Tunisia’s heightened infection rates following Saied’s takeover is uncertain. Still, since the nation has been facing vaccine shortages, the donations will definitely help Tunisia tremendously, especially since 93% of Tunisians had not garnered vaccinations as of early August 2021.
Additionally, if Saied keeps his promise to allow civil society groups “freedom to operate,” like the International Labour Organization (ILO), an NGO with the mission to “break the cycle of poverty in Tunisia,” at least those in need should be able to receive the help and representation they deserve.
– Jared Faircloth