Tunisia sliding back into dictatorship?

In Tunisia, the Islamist Ennahdha party has called for early elections after President Kais Saied deposed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi on Sunday and suspended the work of the parliament. Saied's move came after protests in several cities last week against the government's management of the coronavirus crisis. Commentators see grim prospects for the erstwhile flagship of the Arab Spring.

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Contributors (RO) /

Coup according to plan

What is happening in Tunisia is part of a plan, Contributors notes:

“Two months ago, the [London-based news agency] Middle East Eye published a top-secret leaked document containing a detailed plan to organise and carry out a coup d'état in Tunisia. The document was addressed to President Kais Saied's chief of staff, and set out the steps that would be taken to gain absolute power. At the time, the article and also the document were rightly ignored because it was impossible to verify the plan. But now that the first steps mentioned in the document have been implemented in just two days. The nightmare of the reintroduction of authoritarianism in Tunisia in the form of a constitutional dictatorship seems more and more real.”

Gordonua.com (UA) /

Defeat for democracy and Islamists

The ideals of the Arab Spring have failed in Tunisia, just as Ennahda has, writes Iliya Kusa of the Ukrainian Institute for the Future in gordonua.com:

“In a deeper sense, what has happened in Tunisia is a blow to the myth of the country as the one successful experiment of the Arab Spring, as a democracy the likes of which others have failed to build elsewhere. A myth that the Western media was only too happy to perpetuate. ... Many wanted Tunisia to become a role model, a kind of anti-Syria or anti-Libya. But what they got was a weak, paralysed semi-democracy that hasn't been able to emerge from its crisis for the past 10 years. ... And at the same time the situation in Tunisia is also a failure for the Islamists of Ennahda, who were the main winners of the 2010-2011 revolution.”

Le Monde (FR) /

A social and economic failure

Saied is trying to conceal his own incompetence using autocratic means, writes historian and North Africa expert Sophie Bessis in Le Monde:

“If he wants to retain popular support, the head of state must tackle the causes of the endless crisis from which he has benefited. In two years as president, he has increasingly used slogans and arguments based on conspiracy theories, without producing any structured plan for how to revive the ruined economy and give new hope to the exhausted population. It cannot be ruled out that, unable to provide answers to the social demands he himself has helped to fuel, he will lean increasingly towards dictatorship.”

Polityka (PL) /

Dangerous concentration of power

Tunisia's democracy is hanging by a thread, Polityka fears:

“The bad news is that similar 'consolidations' have tended to lead to dictatorship. A person takes power for a moment, promises to give it back as soon as order has been restored, often difficulties arise and the time for returning to democracy is delayed.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Our passivity is part of the problem

The EU is partly responsible for the crisis, La Stampa notes:

“Europe, which loudly emphasises Tunisia's importance as the only democracy in North Africa, has been dramatically absent during this year and a half of pandemic. It has let the country sink into a deep crisis that was bound to escalate sooner or later. And it has dealt with Tunisia almost exclusively in terms of migration. By fixating on a symptom and ignoring the causes, our passivity has unintentionally become part of the problem. ... As long as we don't change that and don't deal with the country as such, but only with our fear of its migrants, migrations will remain a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Financial Times (GB) /

Time to use what influence we still have

The US and the EU must not repeat the mistake they made in Egypt, warns the Financial Times:

“They appear to be watching which way the wind is blowing in Tunisia. This is short-sighted. The inability of mainstream Islamism to find a place among democratic currents is catastrophic for the Arab future. It is a boon to jihadis. ... The US and the EU still have leverage they should use in Tunisia. It would be a disaster to let it slide into the debris of Arab autocracy. The west, especially Europe, needs a thought-out policy to deal with the Middle East, not just a reactive attitude which feels more comfortable dealing with strongmen than weak institutions it should be supporting.”

News.bg (BG) /

Brussels has no time for North Africa

How news.bg interprets the hesitant stance to the political situation in Tunisia on the part of the EU and the US:

“Brussels currently has no additional diplomatic resources to engage in North Africa, as these have been hijacked in recent years by events in Libya, as well as by deteriorating relations between Morocco on the one hand and Spain and Germany on the other. The fact that the US has not yet issued a statement, either from its embassy in Tunisia or through the State Department, can be interpreted as a sign of support for Kais Saied.”

Gazete Duvar (TR) /

Years of instability

The government crisis in Tunisia does not come as a surprise, Gazete Duvar points out:

“After the departure of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and the relatively calm transition period, the economic problems of the hopeful people could not be solved. ... Tunisia is largely a country driven by tourism and agriculture. In 2020, the per capita income was 3,600 dollars and unemployment was at 17 percent. The pandemic has dealt a huge blow to tourism revenues in particular and, in fact, Tunisia's young people have been demonstrating for months, demanding measures to create jobs and to alleviate the negative conditions caused by the coronavirus. But because the international press is busy with other places, the country is only attracting attention after these latest developments.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

This is why the president was elected

The president's move is consistent, Gazeta Wyborcza writes in praise:

“Kais Saied is a lawyer and university lecturer specialising in constitutional law. In 2019, he ran as an independent outsider in the presidential elections and won them with more than 70 percent of the vote. He received this much support thanks to promises to reform the existing political system and fight corruption, which is still a major problem in Tunisia and a source of resentment among the population.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Democratic allies must help

Tunisia desperately needs the EU's help right now, Corriere della Sera urges:

“Since June the country has been overrun by a new wave of Covid, with insufficient vaccines, oxygen shortages in hospitals and 100 to 200 deaths per day. ... Tunisia, often cited as the one success story of the Arab Spring, needs Europe and democratic allies more than ever. The pandemic is exacerbating a severe crisis in the institutional system that came about after the fall of the dictatorship in 2011. ... The rise of populism and the fragmentation and loss of popularity of the traditional parties have made it impossible to implement the reforms needed to revive the economy.”