Tunisia president appoints two to key security positions

Tunisia president appoints two to key security positions in 'power grab'
2 min read
19 August, 2021
Kais Saied made the decision to appoint a new National Security director and head of the National Guard after a meeting with acting Interior Minister Ridha Gharsallaoui.
Saied has dismissed US concerns over threats to democracy more than a month after suspending parliament [Getty - file photo]

Tunisia President Kais Saied appointed two officials to senior security posts on Thursday, the latest shakeup of government portfolios after a so-called power grab.

Saied named Sami El-Hichri as the director of National Security and Shukri Riahi as head of the National Guard, with the appointments announced following a meeting between the president and acting Interior Minister Ridha Gharsallaoui.

Gharasallaui, a former National Security adviser, was given his portfolio last Thursday.

Saied has dismissed US concerns over threats to democracy more than a month after suspending parliament, lifting parliamentary immunity, and sacking the prime minister and other top officials.

Opponents said the president does not have authority to enact such measures and accused him of launching a coup.

A senior White House official, Joe Fine, delivered a message from President Joe Biden on Friday "urging a swift return to the path of Tunisia’s parliamentary democracy".

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But in a statement, Saied claimed “there is no reason to worry about the subject of freedom, justice and democracy” in Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring uprisings over a decade ago. 

Saeed’s purge - mostly targeting the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party - has seen two lawmakers imprisoned.

Despite symbolic gestures - such as paying MPs their wages during the period of suspension, due to end on Wednesday - observers are sceptical about whether Saied will appoint a prime minister by that date.

"Saied's policy is two-fold: silence and surprise. We cannot predict what he will do after 25 August," said Rabih Al-Khariyfi, a Tunisian legal expert.

He added that an extension of parliament's suspension is a possible scenario.

Despite some sectors of civil society accepting Saied's claims that the measures were intended to crack down on corruption, political figures and activists have launched legal challenges against the leader but the chances of a successful outcome are believed to be slim.