Roughly a decade has passed since Tunisians took to the streets to oust former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, igniting the social movement known to history as the 'Arab Spring'. Now, Tunisians are taking to the streets to push back against a coup instigated by President Kais Saied, who froze parliament and ousted the prime minister - his top political rival - with the support of the army.
President Saied made a declaration Sunday evening that froze parliament and suspended the PM for 30 days. The president and the parliament were both elected in separate popular votes in 2019, while PM Hichem Mechichi took office last summer, replacing another short-lived government. Once it's over, Saied said he will govern alongside a new premier.
Saied said in his statement that his actions were in line with Article 80 of the constitution. He also cited the article to suspend the immunity of members of parliament.
At least three of the main parties, Heart of Tunisia, Ennahda and Karama, have joined together to accuse Saied of plotting a coup.
Thousands of Tunisians took to the streets in response, sparking what Reuters described as "Tunisia's worst crisis in a decade of democracy". Opposition parties, including the Islamists, have denounced President Saied's takeover as a coup. The military has closed the country's borders, suspended air travel
The crackdown follows months of deadlock and political infighting that pitted President Saied, a political independent and a stuffy constitutional lawyer who prefers speaking in classic Arabic, against PM Hichem Mechichi and a fragmented parliament. President Saied blamed the gridlock for exacerbating an economic crisis in the country.
Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, the head of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which has played a role in several governing coalitions, encouraged Tunisians to take to the streets to combat this latest assault on democracy.
JUST IN - Tunisia deploys troops in the capital, shuts down borders and airports. Reports of Muslim Brotherhood-inspired Ennahda movement headquarters stormed in several cities.pic.twitter.com/ACCgIXbxC5— Disclose.tv 🚨 (@disclosetv) July 25, 2021
The military has surrounded the parliament building to block lawmakers from entering. They have also surrounded the presidential palace, and according to reports, they have cracked down on the local offices of Al Jazeera, the Qatari-backed television news organization.
#Tunisia: Policemen break into #Aljazeera bureau of Tunis, shut it down and arbitrarily asked all the journalists to leave without showing any official court decision document #Press_liberty is in danger!!!! 😳 @RSF_NordAfrique @RSF_inter @IFJGlobal @article19org— Ahmed Ellali أحمد اللاّلي (@AhmedEllali) July 26, 2021
Disputes over Tunisia's constitution were intended to be settled by a constitutional court. However, seven years after the constitution was approved, the court has yet to be installed after disputes over the appointment of judges.
Saied, an independent without a party behind him, swore to overhaul a complex political system plagued by corruption. Meanwhile the parliamentary election delivered a fragmented chamber in which no party held more than a quarter of seats.
Instead, it appears followers of the president and other rival factions are already resorting to violence, according to a Reuters report. Supporters of Saied and supporters of Ennahda faced off outside parliament early on Monday morning, some of them exchanging insults and throwing bottles.
Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, the head of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, arrived at the parliament building early on Monday morning and said he would call a session in defiance of Saied, but the army stationed outside stopped the 80-year-old former political exile from entering the building.
The news sent the country's bonds reeling. The 2027 and 2024 bonds both fell more than 5 cents to their lowest in more than a year, with the former slumping to 86.57 cents. The 2025 dollar-denominated issue slipped 4.8 cents to trade at 83.88 cents in the dollar, its lowest level in more than 14 months.
Tunisia's economy has been deteriorating steadily since the Arab Spring ended unilateral rule ten years ago. The situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Among other things, President Saied has ordered the military to take over vaccinations and the rest of the official government response.