Tunisia president 'stages coup', suspends parliament

Tunisia president 'launches coup', suspending elected parliament and dismissing PM
7 min read
Tunisian President Kais Saied announced Sunday the suspension of the country's parliament and the dismissal of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi following a day of protests against the ruling party.
Saied announced the moves following an emergency meeting (Getty)

Tunisia's populist President Kais Saied announced Sunday the suspension of the country's parliament and the dismissal of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi following a day of protests against the government's handling of the Covid-19 crisis but parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi accused the President of seizing on the events to launch a "coup".

Saied announced the moves following an emergency meeting at his palace after thousands of Tunisians marched in several cities protesting about government failures in the North African nation and crippling coronavirus rates.

"The constitution does not allow for the dissolution of parliament, but it does allow for its work to be suspended," the president said, citing Article 80 which permits such a measure in case of "imminent danger". 

Saied said he would take over executive power "with the help" of a government headed by a new chief appointed by the president himself.

He also said that the immunity would be lifted for parliamentary deputies. 

But in statements to Al-Araby al-Jadeed, our Arabic edition, Ennahda leader and Ghannoushi's political advisor Riad al-Shu'aibi said "what happened is a coup against the constitution and state institutions, seizing powers that the constitution does not grant to (President Kais) Saeid, including suspending parliament and lifting immunity from MPs", adding that assuming broad executive powers "reminds us of the power grab by dictatorships following coups". 

"It seems that what happened today, including the attack (by protesters) on Ennahda offices was planned, to create unrest to justify the decisions taken by the president", he added.

Ennahda, he continued, rejects all these measures and calls on all forces opposed to them to make themselves heard, and calls on the prime minister to continue to discharge his duties, oversee institutions, and adhere to the constitution.

Despite a decade passing since the 2011 revolution which overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia remains prone to chronic political turmoil that has stymied efforts to revive crumbling public services.

The country's fractious political class has been unable to form lasting, effective governments.

Since Saied was elected president in 2019, he has been locked in a showdown with Mechichi and parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi.

Their rivalry has blocked ministerial appointments and diverted resources away from tackling Tunisia's many economic and social problems, posing a grave threat to the Arab world's only post-Arab Spring democracy and threatening a return to the dark days of the Ben Ali regime.

Initials reports out of the capital Tunis suggest a violent night, with unknown mobs attacking Ennahda party offices and troops deployed. Unconfirmed reports say the airport and borders have been shut. For many observers in the Arab world tonight, these scenes are reminiscent of the Saudi- and UAE-backed purge against democratically elected Islamists in Egypt in the 2013 coup led by current President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.

That purge ended up nipping Egypt's democracy in the bud.

President Saeid and other 'ancien regime' and populist elements in Tunisia have previously been accused of receiving political from the UAE, which has proclaimed 'political Islam' everywhere as its archenemy.

In April, it was reported that Kais Saeid was planning just such a 'soft coup', but it was denied at the time.

In May, Middle East Eye said it had obtained a secret document outlining a planned coup.

12:43 AM
The New Arab Staff

We conclude this live blog for tonight with Reuters' useful timeline below. Stay tuned for our follow up of the dramatic events in Tunisia in the morning

 Tunisian President Kais Saied sacked the government and froze parliament on Sunday in one of Tunisia's biggest political crises since the 2011 revolution that introduced democracy.

Here is a timeline showing Tunisia's bumpy decade of democracy and the path to Saied's decision.

 

* December 2010 - Vegetable seller Mohamed Bouazizi sets himself on fire after police confiscate his cart. His death and funeral spark protests over unemployment, corruption and repression.

* January 2011 - Autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali flees to Saudi Arabia, as Tunisia’s revolution triggers uprisings across the Arab world.

* October 2011 - Moderate Islamist party Ennahda, banned under Ben Ali, wins most seats and forms a coalition with secular parties to plan a new constitution.

* March 2012 - Growing polarisation emerges between Islamists and secularists, particularly over women’s rights, as Ennahda pledges to keep Islamic law out of the new constitution.

* February 2013 - Secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid is assassinated, prompting street protests and the resignation of the prime minister. Jihadists mount attacks on police.

* December 2013 - Ennahdha cedes power after mass protests and a national dialogue, to be replaced by a technocratic government.

* January 2014 - Parliament approves a new constitution guaranteeing personal freedoms and rights for minorities, and splitting power between the president and prime minister.

* December 2014 - Beji Caid Essebsi wins Tunisia’s first free presidential election. Ennahda joins the ruling coalition.

* March 2015 - Islamic State attacks on the Bardo Museum in Tunis kill 22 people. In June a gunman kills 38 at a beach resort in Sousse.

The attacks devastate the vital tourism sector and are followed by a suicide bombing in November that kills 12 soldiers.

* March 2016 - The army turns the tide against the jihadist threat by defeating dozens of Islamic State fighters who rampage into a southern town from across the Libyan border.

* December 2017 - The economy approaches crisis point as the trade deficit soars and the currency slides.

* October 2019 - Voters show dissatisfaction with the major parties, first electing a deeply fractured parliament and then political outsider Kais Saied as president.

* January 2020 - After months of failed attempts to form a government, Elyes Fakhfakh becomes prime minister but is forced out within months over a corruption scandal.

* August 2020 - Saied designates Hichem Mechichi as prime minister. He quickly falls out with the president and his fragile government lurches from crisis to crisis as it struggles to deal with the pandemic and the need for urgent reforms.

* January 2021 - A decade on from the revolution, new protests engulf Tunisian cities in response to accusations of police violence and after the pandemic devastates an already weak economy.

* July 2021 - Saied dismisses the government, freezes parliament and says he will rule alongside the new prime minister citing an emergency section of the constitution that is dismissed by Ennahda and others in parliament as a coup.

12:41 AM
The New Arab Staff

Former President Moncef Marzouki also uses the term 'coup' to describe tonight's events, saying he has hope the Tunisian people will reject what happened

12:04 AM
The New Arab Staff

Tunisia's presidency said on Sunday that the order to freeze the activities of the country's parliament, announced earlier in the evening, would last for 30 days (Reuters)

 

12:01 AM
The New Arab Staff

Military vehicles surround Tunisian parliament building after president announces its activities frozen, two witnesses say (Reuters)

11:43 PM
The New Arab Staff

Unconfirmed reports suggest Tunisia has shut down airport and borders after president sacked prime minister and suspended parliament

11:41 PM
The New Arab Staff

'Protesters' attempt to storm Ennahda's HQ despite Covid-19 curfew (/Al-Araby al-Jadeed correspondent in Tunis).

11:32 PM
The New Arab Staff

In statements to Al-Araby al-Jadeed, our Arabic edition, Ennahda leader and Ghannoushi's political advisor Riad al-Shu'aibi said "what happened is a coup against the constitution and state institutions, seizing powers that the constitution does not grant to (President Kais) Saeid, including suspending parliament and lifting immunity from MPs", adding that assuming broad executive powers "reminds us of the power grab by dictatorships following coups". 

"It seems that what happened today, including the attack (by protesters) on Ennahda offices was planned, to create unrest to justify the decisions taken by the president", he added.

Ennahda, he continued, rejects all these measures and calls on all forces opposed to them to make themselves heard, and calls on the prime minister to continue to discharge his duties, oversee institutions, and adhere to the constitution.

11:28 PM
The New Arab Staff

In April, it was reported that Kais Saeid was planning just such a 'soft coup', but it was denied at the time.

In May, Middle East Eye said it had obtained a secret document outlining a planned coup.

MENA
Live Story
11:14 PM
The New Arab Staff

All has not been well in Tunisia's democracy. Meddling by counter-revolutionary forces, such as the United Arab Emirates, has always sought to roll back many of the precious gains of the Tunisian Arab Spring revolution. 

A flatlining economy, a Covid-19 epidemic, and a bitter dispute over the building of further institutions to safeguard democracy blocked by the current, populist president behind Sunday night's move has led to a steady creep of authoritarianism into the heart of the country's governance.

Following Kais Saied's dramatic assault on democracy tonight, Ennahda-aligned parliament speaker Rached Ghannoushi said: "We consider the institutions to be still standing and supporters of Ennahda and the Tunisian people will defend the revolution" as Ennahda met to discuss further steps.

Analysis
Live Story
11:03 PM
The New Arab Staff

Seizing on Tunisian protests over the government's handling of the Covid-19 crisis in the country, the country's president appeared to make a dramatic power grab on Sunday night, suspending parliament and reportedly detaining the prime minister whose whereabouts are currently unknown.

The Ennahda movement to which the PM is close and has the biggest number of seats in parliament immediately decried the move as an unconstitutional coup.

Sunday night's crisis marks the most serious challenge to the North African country's fledgling democracy since the 2011 'Jasmin Revolution' toppled its long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.