Tue. Oct 19th, 2021


Kais Saied Updates

Even after winning a landslide victory in the 2019 presidential election in Tunisia, Kais Saied has been sacked by the country’s troubled politicians as an inexperienced outsider. This week he blinds his opponents by taking measures widely rejected inside and outside Tunisia as a coup.

Saied, 63, is a strict former professor of constitution who sees it as his mission to clean up corruption. He presented his movements seize extra powers as an attempt to save Tunisia from violent elites who have mismanaged it since the 2011 revolution.

Sunday, amid a rise in coronavirus infections and protest rallies over the chaotic response of the authorities, Saied called the constitution’s ‘imminent danger’ clause and the government fired. He suspended parliament, lifted his members’ immunity and announced that businessmen were considered corrupt in his eyes.

The two main parties, including the moderate Islamist Nahda, accused him of plotting a coup. But Tunisians, for years plagued by inefficiencies by the government and a failed economy, welcomed his intervention in general. A poll by Emrhod Consulting, a local firm, shows that more than 87 percent have been approved.

“I think his endgame is the restructuring of the political landscape,” said Tarek Kahlaoui, a political analyst. ‘He may want a referendum to change the political system from the current semi-parliamentary to a more presidential system. I think he will also place restrictions on candidates who are corrupt, which will enable him to get rid of political actors. ”

Some warn against impending autocracy seen in the country as the most promising example of a democratic transition between Arab countries that rose up against dictatorship in 2011. ‘He has a redemption complex and a fixation on corrupt elite, ”Says Monica Marks, lecturer at New York University in Abu Dhabi. “His criticism is often good, but his answers are disastrous in the sense that it threatens to kill democracy itself.”

Saied, born in 1958 in Tunis, studied law and studied at universities in the coastal city of Sousse and in the capital. According to Kahlaoui, university leaders regarded him as an “anti-establishment outsider”, but he established good relations with students and “generations were trained by him”.

He became nationally known after 2011, when he appeared on television to comment on drafts of a new constitution. But when he was elected president, few Tunisians initially expected him to win. His way was tight and formal. He spoke classical Arabic, not Tunisian dialect. He had no funding or organization. Yet his candidacy responded to a darker mood.

Eight years after the revolution, many Tunisians were fed up with weak coalition governments. The public has lost confidence in post-revolutionary politicians, including Islamists returning from exile, who are widely accused of sharing the loot with old regime elites. Saied throws himself as a new broom. Religious and socially conservative, but not an Islamist, is considered by many to be “a safe pair of hands,” Marks said.

During his campaign, he spoke of his distrust of political parties as sowers of discord and factionalism. He outlines a vague vision of a system of municipal councils, to which candidates should be elected on the basis of character and not political affiliation. He also refused state funding for his campaign, looking for coffee shops supported by volunteers, including alumni.

Faouzi Daas, a protest organizer during the revolution, took part. “I admired his asceticism,” he recalls. ‘I learned from him that popular action rather than money should determine the outcomes in politics. . . If I know him, I can say that he is as far as possible a dictator. Since 2019, he has been trying with the politicians, but they are stuck in their ways, far from the right path. ”

Saied’s election victory, with a crushing 77 percent of the vote, was a clear reprimand to mainstream politicians. According to Kahlaoui, this should sound the alarm for the established parties, but they have ignored public sentiment and the new president has been dismissed as ‘someone who just talks’.

Saied refuses to move into the presidential palace and lives at home, insisting he is a simple citizen with no interest. Coronavirus and his security team determined the move last year, but he still falls into his old cafe to chat with customers.

Such gestures the Tunisians find attractive, and Saied remains popular. But he also contributed to the political paralysis. Conflict between him, former Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and Nahda’s parliamentary speaker has deepened. Since January, Saied has refused to swear in 11 ministers, elected by Mechichi, on allegations of corruption.

At the moment, it seems that the president army support, of which he is the leader under the constitution. A Nahda official claims foreign involvement in the ‘coup’ and accuses the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and France of interfering. But Kahlaoui believes there is no outside support. “It does not depend on Saied’s personality,” he says. “Maybe something good will come out of this, maybe a filter to a new democratic process, but there is still a risk to autocracy.”

Points are more pessimistic. ‘The man does not just want to reform a system that needs it. He is a system destroyer who will throw the baby away with the bathwater. ”

heba.saleh@ft.com



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