Kais Saied's new Tunisia constitution paves the way for dictatorship, says Dr Azmi Bishara

Kais Saied's new Tunisia constitution paves the way for dictatorship, says Dr Azmi Bishara
3 min read
05 July, 2022
Tunisia President Kais Saied's new draft constitution shows it to be a thinly disguised step towards a dictatorial regime, says Dr. Azmi Bishara, director of the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies.
A protester holds the constitution booklet during a march in protest against the Tunisian President Kais Saied on 19 June 2022 [Ididi Wassim/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty]

Tunisia President Kais Saied's plan for a new constitution paves the way for a return to dictatorship in the country, said Dr Azmi Bishara, director of the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies on Monday, slamming it as a full-scale assault on democracy.

Saied, who dissolved parliament in March after what critics condemned a coup, on Tuesday defended his plan and urged Tunisians to back his proposed constitution when it goes to a vote on 25 July.

Tunisians overthrew the regime of Zine El Abedine Ben Ali in 2011, ending decades of dictatorial rule and establishing a democratic system. However, these wins now hang in the balance after Saied's 2021 power grab.

Dr Bishara said the draft constitution does not reflect a democratic system nor guarantee a balance of executive, judicial and legislative powers. 

A reference to state powers in the draft as "purely bureaucratic functions" signals "preparations for a dictatorial system and turning towards an authoritarian presidential regime", he said.

"[Saied] doesn't believe in liberal democracy nor in the role of parliament," Dr Bishara told Al-Araby TV.

So far, its wording appears "very scant", Dr Bishara said, with a unilateral approach taken by the president during its drafting. The absence of a public debate on its formation is another dangerous precedent, he added.

Saied's constitution plan has been widely condemned by activists, human rights groups, and politicians, including members of the constitutional committee who say the draft presented by the president is radically different to the one recommended by legal experts.

It comes after a series of economic and political crises in Tunisia, most recently with the suspension and dissolving of parliament by Saied. 

Dr Bishara said the preoccupation of political parties on their own power struggles rather than tackling key economic and political challenges had been "disastrous" for Tunisia.

He also believes the General Labour Union (UGTT) - the largest trade union in Tunisia - had failed to play a constructive role on questions of economic growth in the country.

Tunisians will vote on the constitution in a 25 July referendum, though there are fears of the country sliding back into authoritarianism in what is deemed to be the last success story of the Arab Spring.

In the wide-ranging interview with Al-Araby TV, Dr Bishara commented also commented on the Iran nuclear deal, normalisation with Israel in the Arab world, and the Ukraine war.

On normalisation, Dr Bishara explained that the path to normalisation with Israel was continuing apace among some Arab states without the need for US pressure.

President Joe Biden is due to make a landmark visit to Saudi Arabia next month, where normalisation between Saudi Arabia and Israel is expected to be discussed along with oil production.

Dr Bishara said Arab states missed a rare opportunity in placing conditions vis-a-vis US demands on oil production.

You can watch the full video (in Arabic) here.