Weary Tunisians welcome the President’s power grab

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Ten years ago, when the Tunisians rebelled against the dictatorship, Hichem Jelassi joined other young protesters who burned tires and clashed with the police in the impoverished Tadamon district of Tunisia This was a flashpoint during the revolution.

The 30-year-old Jelassi is now forced to sell melons at market stalls after the coronavirus pandemic has hit his tourism livelihood. He says he “does not regret” the uprising-but he has no regrets about the populist President Keith Said I’m glad that the critics blamed the recent seizure of power Launch a coup The only democratic country in the Arab world.

“He did a very good thing,” Jerash said. “I am with Kais Saied, everyone is the same. Do you understand the meaning of poverty and marginalized youth? He feels our pain.”

Since the revolution in 2011 triggered an uprising throughout the Arab world, the standard of living of Tunisians has plummeted. Since then, multiple coalition governments have been working hard to manage the economy. The country has been ravaged by the pandemic and the government’s response has been severely criticized.

Last week, Said fired the prime minister and suspended Parliament for 30 days, triggering a political crisis. The President also took over the powers of state prosecutors and announced the fight against corruption.

Opponents, including the moderate Islamic National League, the country’s largest party, accused Said of Restore one-man ruleBut many Tunisians consider him to be the savior, freeing them from the violent coterie of incompetent and corrupt politicians. According to a survey by Emrhod, a local polling agency, more than 84% of people said they agreed with the president’s move.

President Case Said fired the prime minister and suspended Parliament for 30 days, triggering a political crisis ©Hedi Azouz/AP

Tunisia’s democratic transformation is widely regarded as the only success story that emerged from the Arab uprising, but many of its 12 million people see it as a nightmare of governance failure and deepening poverty.

“I am not afraid of losing freedom and democracy,” Aliaa Qaliee said while standing in her small candy store in Tadamon. “When politicians rob us and destroy our lives, it is not freedom but exploitation. Maybe if Ben Ali [the dictator ousted in 2011] If we stay, we will not reach this state. “

Under the influence of the coronavirus, Tunisia’s economy shrank by 8.8% last year. Before the pandemic, the average annual growth rate since 2011 was only 1.8%. Political turmoil, revolving door governments (10 in the past decade), and terrorist attacks on tourism in 2015 and 2016 have all caused losses.

Weak coalitions backed by parties with conflicting priorities cannot push for reforms or reach important loan agreements with the International Monetary Fund. Protests often erupt due to high unemployment and high prices, and people generally consider corruption.

On the bright side, elections are held regularly, and the results reflect the wishes of the voters. Said unexpectedly won the presidential election in 2019. Although he is a political outsider with no campaign funds, government positions or party machinery, he is unthinkable in other parts of the region. The country has a vibrant civil society and freedom of speech. All of this may be in danger, some fear.

For now, the serious intentions of the 63-year-old former constitutional professor are still a mystery. It is not clear whether he will restore the parliament or deepen the differences by imprisoning MPs accused of corruption.

Monica Marks, an expert on Tunisia at New York University, said: “I can see a situation where you can no longer call Tunisia a democratic country even if you don’t end up fully dictatorial like Egypt did.” In Abu Dhabi Compare.

Analysts say that the overwhelming victory of the Politburo outsider Said in the election should keep veteran politicians vigilant.

Lotfi Zeitoun, a former Nahda official, broke with it in 2019, criticizing politicians for not reaching millions of people who often avoid elections. “Yes… unemployed youth, but neither Nahda nor other political parties can find a solution for them,” he said. “If they have, they will expand their base [and strengthened democracy]. “

Nahda’s votes fell from 1.5 million in 2011 to 500,000 in 2019. Much of the anger on the streets was directed at the party, whose offices were attacked last week. Nahda officials argued that they were not alone or always in power, but many countered that the party had exerted the greatest influence.

“The political parties just focused on their quarrels and gave up the interests of the people who are now really tired,” said Jamal, a local council official in Tadamon. “Sayed serves the people.”

In 2013, the compromise between Nahda and the old regime’s factions avoided a civil war at that time. However, Zeitoun said that the subsequent “consensus” policy advocated by Nahda and its new partners to avoid conflicts between them provided cover for the “emergence of nepotism and corrupt lobbying groups”.

Mouheb Garoui, founder of I Watch, an anti-corruption civil society organization, said: “There are hundreds of corruption files on the judge’s desk, but most of them are pending because the judiciary is part of the political game. People have read the reports published by state agencies and civil society. They know where the corruption is, but they don’t see any action.”

Nahda supported a reconciliation law in 2015 that amnesty civil servants implicated in the corruption of the old regime.

Mahmoud, the owner of a clothing store, said: “They brought people who were suffocating Tunisians, and reconciled with them and let them rule the country.”

While the Tunisian waited for his next move, Said insisted that he was not a dictator and had acted to save the country.

“Most people are with him now, but they should be careful of their wishes,” Garui said. “We require a clear way forward and supervise his decision.”

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