Tunisians take to street opposing president’s move to sideline country’s constitution

After sacking the prime minister and suspending the parliament in July, president Kais Saied issued decree 117 on Wednesday, according to which he can rule by bypassing the provisions of the constitution adopted in 2014

September 27, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Photo: Meshkal_TN (@MeshkalTn) via Twitter

Hundreds of Tunisians took to the streets in capital Tunis on Sunday, September 26, to protest president Kais Saied’s recent move to appropriate more power in the country. Protesters raised slogans against the president and accused him of trying to rewrite the 2014 constitution unilaterally. They demanded that either the parliament be reinstated or fresh elections be conducted as soon as possible. 

The protests were called following the last week’s announcement by the president that he would rule by decree, ignoring the provisions of the 2014 constitution. 

In July, Kais Saied sacked the prime minister, suspended the parliament, and took over most executive powers. Saied cited long-term political instability and the failure of successive governments to address the economic crisis. He also cited the government’s failure to contain the COVID-19 outbreak in the country. 

Ahead of the protests, over 100 leaders and members of Ennahda, the biggest party in parliament, resigned, protesting the leadership’s failure to form a joint front against president Saied’s moves. Senior leader Imed Khemiri and eight parliamentarians were among those who left the party on Saturday. Ennahda’s leader and speaker of the suspended parliament, Rached Ghannouchi, had taken a moderate position on president Kais Saied’s moves after initially opposing it and calling it a “coup.” Imed Khemiri and members of other opposition parties such as Heart of Tunisia and Karama took part in Sunday’s protest.

Other parties in the country have opposed it with the leftist Workers’ Party calling it a coup.

Divided opposition 

However, some political parties continue to support the president, calling his actions a much-needed “reform process” in the country. Even on Sunday, when the opposition was protesting against president Saied’s decision to “rule by decrees,” a small number of protesters gathered in his support. 

The left-leaning People’s Movement, which has 15 deputies in the parliament, openly supported Saied’s move. In a statement on Sunday, it said that measures decided last week (Decree 117) were “aimed to rectify the process of the December 17 revolution [2010 popular uprising] and meet the Tunisian people’s demand for dignity, employment, fight against corruption and dictatorship, and equity between regions and social categories”, Tunisian news agency TAP reported.  

Meanwhile, Free Destourian Party, which supported the July 25 move, also opposed the president’s latest move and demanded snap parliamentary elections. On Saturday, dozens of other human rights groups issued a statement denouncing decree 117, calling it “a first step towards despotism,” TAP reported. The Tunisian General Labor Union, the country’s biggest union, which had backed the president in July, recently criticized his latest measures.

Tunisia was one of the few countries to have developed a relatively stable political system in the aftermath of the 2011 pan-Arab popular uprisings, also known as the Arab Spring. Coups replaced new governments in countries like Egypt while various countries such as Libya, Syria, and Yemen witnessed wars following the uprisings. Many of these wars were instigated or supported by the US and its allies. While many rounds of protests had been witnessed in the country ahead of the president’s decisions on July 25, the political system established followed the Arab Spring had survived