Tunisia’s President’s Bets and Internal and External Challenges

Story Highlights
  • Saied Project
  • Sources of Saied's authority
  • Parties and civil society in the new political shift
  • International relations and economic nightmare
  • Does Saeed's political project succeed, and where is Tunisia going?

Tunisia’s political system has undergone major transformations since the events of Republic Day (25 July 2021) when President Kais Saied undertook extraordinary measures, issuing authorities in the country, dismissing the House of Representatives, dismissing the Government and making a new politically depoliticized Government, drafting a new constitution for the country and new election law, many wonders where Tunisia is headed? What is the President’s project that he intends to implement? What is the fate of the country’s political society and the future of democracy? What are the sources of power and mechanisms of new governance? Would the Tunisian army have a role in politics? Does Saied succeed in establishing a new political system that satisfies Tunisians and reflects positively on their standard of living? What impact has the new Totalitarianism had on the Tunisian regime?

Saied Project

Many questions; Does President Kais Saied have a well-defined social-political project? The answer is yes. When he returned to the President’s statements and interviews during his 2019 presidential run, tracing his political behavior and subsequent decisions, he applied the most stated objectives, which can be summarized as follows:

The Kais Saied project, called “For a new institution”, focuses on the redistribution of political power from the center to the local, so that the social-political construction as Saied describes it is “mainly from local to center”, i.e. the establishment of a decentralized political system, based on localities and their needs. This is not a decentralized system of governance in the democratic perspective, since in addition to the intention to divide and redistribute power, Saied plans to reduce, unload, and strengthen power elsewhere.

Saied adopts a “divide and conquer” approach, especially under exceptional conditions that have supported him to dismantle the “political league” rule. In the Khaldouni perspective, this approach requires them to begin amending a package of legislation governing political action, notably the Constitution and the Electoral Law, each of which has been promulgated in a different manner. Parliamentary elections were scheduled for 17 December 2022 in accordance with the Electoral Law, which was issued without consultation with political parties, in conjunction with the United Nations International Day of Democracy each year.

Sources of Saied’s authority

It is well known that President Saied does not affiliate with any political party – as he has defined himself since he ran for election to date – and that his election campaign and success in reaching the Palace of Carthage was a voluntary effort by mostly non-partisan youth groups. He benefited greatly from Ennahda’s support in the second round of the presidential election when Ennahda feared the success of his rival, Nabil Karoui, who was then promoted as being supported by countries fighting political Islam and supporting the military regime, That is, Kais Saied reached the dam of the rule of the Carthage Palace by a punitive vote, the first of those who are disillusioned with power-grabbing political parties, the second is to punish his suspicious rival and for fear of external interference affecting power parties, foremost among which is the Ennahda movement. Three resources can be identified from which Saied gain his authority:

1-       Non-political citizen

Kais Saied invests in the frustration of Tunisians, a situation largely caused by the failures of the ruling political currents to improve the socio-economic situation, and always focuses on what he calls “Parliamentary farce”, which is the rhetoric between political forces within the Parliament, which Tunisians have consistently been in, and in his speech to young people and society in Tunisia, he said that this behavior was inappropriate to Tunisia’s status that led to the Jasmine Revolution, that Tunisians deserved better than this spectacle, and that radical change became imperative.

2-       Military Institution

Tunisians were surprised by the presence of military dress at the scene of the 25 July events “When Tunisian army officers gathered around President Saied during his announcement of extraordinary procedures by impeachment the Government, freezing Parliament and imposing house arrest on its members, Soldiers were also present in front of the Parliament to prevent deputies from entering the Council. and this is an unusual scene in Tunisia, where the army is known to distance itself from political action Al-Habib Bourgiba, the first President of the Republic of Tunisia, said one day; (When you see Bourgiba appoint a military man in the heart of his Government; Know that Bourgiba is over), but with the resolutions of Republic Day, there has been a radical shift in civilian-military relations in Tunisia, where Saied was able to co-opt the army as the most important pillar of the coalition map for the new project. Saied also borrowed the words of one of the soldiers guarding the gate of the Tunisian Parliament when the Speaker told him: “We swear to protect the Constitution,” the soldier replied: “We swear to protect the homeland,” this debate indicates a political imbalance and a separation between the Constitution and the homeland, consequently, the imbalance is due to the absence of a constitutional court.

3-       Trade unions

Trade unions can be classified as Level 3 in the Saied Authority in the absence of parties that have created barriers between trade unions and decision-making, trade unions have begun to lean towards Saied decisions and their political project, in which they find an interest. Meanwhile, Saied recognizes the importance of trade unions, primarily the General Labor Union “, which recently made a deal with the Government to increase salaries and minimum wages, in a move that observers found to be evasive from the government to obtain external funding, especially IMF loans and, on the other hand, to earn one of Tunisia’s largest organizations, It has a struggling history and power influence and also support Saied project in a politically decentralized approach, filling the vacuum left by political parties.

Parties and civil society in the new political shift

The parties in Tunisia have made strides toward political shift and democratization; However, it has not been able in conjunction with an economic development transformation that reflects positively on the living standards of the individual and the Tunisian family. Parties overcome with the scene of selfishness and the negative dispute for power, this has enshrined a futile picture of political action in the minds of Tunisian citizen. As the coronavirus pandemic ramps up, the economic situation has plummeted.

In 2015, Tunisian civil society received the Nobel Peace Prize, through the Tunisian Quartet, which was concerned with the national political dialogue between the Transitional Government and opposition parties, leading to a comprehensive compromise between them, and sparing the country from a state of chaos. Tunisia is among the Arab countries with the most political parties and civil society organizations, a large number of these organizations work in their programs to promote political participation and consolidate democratic values through civic education programs, These organizations received funding from the international community to support Tunisia’s consolidation of the democratic transition and despite efforts over the past decade, the international community was stunned on 15 July when civil society did not defend democracy. Programs” raised questions about the feasibility of such programs and their need for evaluation and analyze, On the other hand, complementarity with parallel development sectors, particularly economic and social ones.

President Saied’s mentality is haunted by a traditional image of conspiracy about civil society organizations. This can be seen by speaking about civil society during his candidacy, where he stated at more than one occasion that he has a project to halt the support of all associations, both from the inside and from the outside, because they say: After arriving at the Carthage Palace, his project gradually began to be implemented. Funding restrictions were imposed. Many associations were unable to complete their funding. The funding outage led to the unemployment of a large number of civilian actors. Many of them, who advocated for Saied, turned to oppose him.

International relations and economic nightmare:

Kais Saied believed that a Tunisian woman would take over the leading role for the first time in Tunisia’s history s new political system in the international community, who will provide support and assistance to the Tunisian Government, but his belief was wrong, it is clear that in Saied period Tunisia has a problem and a gap in international relations and in the relationship with international institutions such as the Monetary Fund.

In Tunisia and observers of the political economy, Tunisia is moving towards economic bankruptcy. This is based on several indicators, most notably the worsening public debt and the refusal of international institutions to provide loans to the Government. Tunisia’s rating has also fallen by global credit agencies. Tunisia recorded the highest economic contraction in 2020 since independence in 1956, which in turn exacerbated unemployment, which exceeded the 18% mark.

Does Saeed’s political project succeed, and where is Tunisia going?

When political tendencies and institutional political support missed the President’s project It was natural for Saied to look for new tendencies and other protection, which he found in the military, and therefore he relied on the army on the issue of the ideology of the homeland, this establishes a new political system closer to the Totalitarianism, which in turn heralds a continuing rise in authoritarianism and a weakening of political stability. This phase brings to mind the experience of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali political man with a military background, who convinced everyone that Habib Borgiba was not eligible to rule then Ben Ali lead the new dictatorial political system, and here is an indication that Saied is leading an interim phase, setting the stage for a new military-political rise in Tunisia.

Tunisian people used to live in a freedom sphere, and it is difficult to rehabilitate it with a patriarchal system, which is true, but Tunisian personality seems to adapt to the conditions, and most importantly: does the younger generation endure economic asphyxiation and confiscation of freedoms? The answer is that in the next phase Tunisia is prepared for political and social chaos, that the engineering of the elections and the elaboration of a weak House of Representatives, will not help in finding solutions to the economic and social crisis, and that the re-completion of the democratic experience will not be soon, nor will it be easy, but possible, especially since all conditions of social uprising are achieved.

Tunisia is faced with a unilateral sociopolitical contract, a sign of significant progress towards a new, inclusive approach, whose ideology is the doctrine of needs — as described by Iraqi sociologist Faleh Abdul Jabbar – who concludes that the “dictatorship of needs” is the largest source of violence in the human being.

Margins and references:

1-       Tunisia’s new Constitution: bit.ly/3S9WK3B

2-       New Election Law, Official Leader: bit.ly/3BnaKAc

3-       Muhammad Ali al-Hishri, “Tunisian army and power… from disregard and marginalization to participation and influence “.

4-       Totalitarianism can be reviewed in Hannah Arendt’s book, Totalitarian System: Control Mechanisms in Power and Society, Rare Venusian Translation, and can return to Hannah Arendt’s book: Politics, History and Citizenship, from the publications of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Study.

5-       Faleh Abdul Jabbar, Book of Totalitarianism, Institute of Iraqi Studies.

6-       Panel discussion: What role does the Tunisian army play in politics? Program after yesterday, Al Jazeera Podcast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziTb9ZDdL5M

7-       Tunisia’s page and data can be found at the World Bank through the following link: https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/tunisia

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