In Brief

Crackdown in Tunisia: the death of a young democracy?

President Kais Saied’s seizing of power suggests he plans to ‘eliminate any oversight and all obstacles to his rule’

They may have been cheered on by millions – but there’s no doubt that the events that unfolded in Tunisia on 25 July amounted to a “coup d’état”, said Nizar Bahloul in Business News (Tunis).

After widespread anti-government protests over Tunisia’s chaotic pandemic response and its shrinking economy, President Kais Saied invoked emergency powers under Article 80 of the constitution: the prime minister, Hichem Mechichi, was sacked; parliament was suspended and ringed by military vehicles.

Saied, who was elected two years ago on an anti-establishment platform, then furthered the appearance of a coup by firing two ministers and lengthening an existing curfew. Public gatherings of more than three people were banned, and security forces raided the offices of Qatar-funded TV channel Al Jazeera. The upshot? “We are facing the real and immediate death of our young democracy.”

Tunisia was once “the cradle of the Arab Spring”, said Tallha Abdulrazaq on TRT World (Istanbul). When protesters toppled the country’s dictatorship in 2011, it set off an “unstoppable wave” of fury against “corrupt, violent and oppressive rulers” in nations throughout the Arab world. Yet ten years on, Tunisia was the only one of those countries where genuine democracy had survived.

Unfortunately, instead of the freedom and prosperity they were promised, Tunisians have endured years of “economic crisis” and “political paralysis”, said Nathalie Tocci in La Stampa (Turin). To make matters worse, the health service has buckled under the impact of Covid: 20,000 people have died, out of a population of 12 million, and to date a mere 8% have been fully vaccinated.

Thousands of Tunisians poured into the streets to cheer Saied’s suspension of parliament, where the moderate Islamists of the Ennahda party hold the most seats, said Al-Bayan (Dubai). Car horns honked, fireworks exploded and crowds chanted jubilantly.

But I doubt the celebratory mood will last long, said Marwan Bishara on Al Jazeera (Doha). Saied’s cynical use of the constitution to seize power, and his praise for Egypt’s dictatorship, suggests he plans to “eliminate any oversight and all obstacles to his rule” in the coming months.

The autocratic leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have more to celebrate, said Claire Parker in The Washington Post. They never wanted the Arab Spring – or the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Ennahda – to succeed. State media there have triumphantly hailed the events in Tunisia as “the death knell for political Islam in democracy”.

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