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Saied announces his intention to reform Tunisia's constitution

Tunisia remains without a government more than a month after the suspension of Parliament
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REUTERS/ZOUBEIR SOUISS  -   Kais Saied, Tunisian President

Tunisia could face its last days without a government. With Parliament suspended and with all political powers under the figure of Kais Saied, the Tunisian president has announced in his latest statements his intention to reform the 2014 Constitution, approved three years after the outbreak of the Arab Spring. Saied has also told local media that he will "shortly" report on the formation of a new government.

On 26 July, in the midst of the economic, social and health crisis, the Tunisian president decided to suspend all parliamentary powers for 30 days, assuming full governmental powers under his person with the aim of "saving the country". This decision was executed in response to demonstrations by hundreds of Tunisians demanding political reform, as well as health measures in response to the pandemic crisis. Saied then dismissed Prime Minister Hichemi Michechi, triggering a political crisis in the country unprecedented since the outbreak of the Arab Spring.

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AFP/ ETHI BELAID y ERIC PIERMONT - Combination of archive images of Tunisian President Kais Saied and the founder of the Islamist Ennahdha party, Rached Ghannouchi.

In this vein, Saied decided to invoke Article 80 of the current Tunisian constitution, which provides that 'in the event of an imminent threat that endangers the nation's entity, national security or independence and prevents the normal institutional functioning of the state, the president of the republic may adopt the measures required by this state of emergency'.

A month after the decision, President Saied affirmed that these measures were taken in order to "protect the state" and put an end to measures that "increased the misery and poverty of the people". He added that "we did not want to resort to measures despite the fulfilment of constitutional conditions, but on the other hand, many people were deceived by hypocrisy and betrayal".

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AFP/ FETHI BELAID - Celebration in the street after Tunisian President Kais Saied announced the dissolution of parliament and Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi's government in Tunisia on 25 July 2021.

Although the month stipulated for the formation of a new government has already expired, Saied has pledged to appoint a new prime minister as soon as possible. With respect to the current Constitution, he has reported on the possibility of "seeing it possible" to introduce amendments, despite feeling "respect" for it, thus appealing to the supposed criticisms of the current Magna Carta by citizens.

On the other hand, the Tunisian president continues to distance himself from critics who accuse him of having committed a coup d'état. In statements made to SkyNews, the president reiterated that his political movement "is opposed" to an alleged coup. He also assures that all his decisions have been carried out in "legitimacy" and criticised all those politicians who have "betrayed" their commitments to the constitution.

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AFP/SOFIENE HAMDAOUI - A man, who set himself on fire, is helped by passers-by and Tunisian policemen on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in the capital Tunis, Tunis, 11 September 2021.

Although Tunisia had made relative progress in the wake of the Arab Spring and stood as the only success story of the uprisings, the slow progress had led to growing public unrest. The economic crisis, the high-profile cases of corruption and the resulting social tension, coupled with the failed management of the health crisis, have led to a crisis that has transformed the country into a new example of democratic failure, according to several international observers.

 Unprecedented arrests

Moreover, during the almost two months that Saied has been in power as the only legitimate political figure, police repression has increased considerably. According to Human Rights Watch, three parliamentarians have been arrested and detained for crimes related to freedom of expression. Similarly, at least 50 citizens have reportedly been "arbitrarily" detained under house arrest.

Following these arrests, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, met with Kais Saied to express the EU's concern about the latest developments in the country. Furthermore, in a statement to the media, Borrell declared that he had "conveyed to the President Europe's fears, fears regarding the preservation of the democratic acquis in Tunisia, which is the only thing that can guarantee the stability and prosperity of the country".

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AFP/ FETHI BELAID - A Tunisian protester raises a flag cage during an anti-government demonstration on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in the capital Tunis on January 19, 2021.

He went on to say that depending on what happens in the coming weeks, the European Union will decide its position on Tunisia depending on "the concrete measures that will be adopted in the coming weeks", to which the Tunisian leader responded that "Tunisia cannot accept playing the role of a pupil waiting to receive lessons, notes or comments on its bulletin".