Tunisia’s Saied issues decree cementing

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Tunisian President Kais Saied declared on Wednesday that he will rule by decree and ignore parts of the constitution as he prepares to change the political system, leading to immediate opposition from rivals.

Saied has held almost total power since July 25, when he fired the prime minister, shut down parliament and adopted the executive branch, citing a national emergency in a move his enemies called a coup. His intervention has undermined the democratic gains of the 2011 Tunisian revolution that ended autocracy and triggered the Arab Spring, despite Saied’s promise to uphold the freedoms he won a decade ago.

As the weeks have passed, he has come under increasing pressure from Tunisian political actors and Western donors to appoint a prime minister and explain how he intends to get past the crisis. The new measures announced on Wednesday go much further than the steps he took in July and wrote in Tunisia’s official newspaper governing the country’s political system to give the president almost unlimited power. The announcement came in a statement from the presidency entitled “Presidential Order On Extraordinary Measures”.

Rules published in the Official Journal allow him to issue “legal texts” by decree, appoint the Cabinet and establish its political orientation and basic decisions without interference.

The elected parliament, which he adjourned in July with a highly controversial reading of the constitution, will not only remain frozen but its members will stop receiving their salaries. They will still be deprived of immunity from prosecution.

Saied did not set a time limit for his takeover, but said he would appoint a committee to help draft amendments to the 2014 constitution and establish “a true democracy where the people are truly sovereign.”

The Presidency said that in the meantime, only the preamble to the existing constitution and all clauses that do not conflict with the executive and legislative powers he has seized will remain in force.

The leader of the moderate Ennahdha party, the largest in the deeply divided parliament and a member of successive governing coalitions, immediately rejected Saied’s announcements. Rached Ghannouchi said the announcement would repeal the constitution and that Ennahdha, which had already declared the Saied July 25 intervention a coup, would not accept it.

A senior official in the heart of Tunisia, the second-largest party in parliament, accused Saied of carrying out a “deliberate coup”.

“We demand a national adaptation to the coup,” official Osama al-Khalifi said on Twitter.

This month, a Saied adviser told Reuters that the president planned to abort the constitution and offer a new version via a referendum, prompting a backlash from the powerful trade union and political parties. Saied has denied that he has dictatorial aspirations, insists that his actions are constitutional and has promised to uphold the rights of Tunisians.

His widely popular intervention came after years of economic stagnation and political paralysis, exacerbated by a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases and a day of violent protests. But as the weeks have passed, a growing number of Tunisians have become concerned about the lack of clarity about Saied’s plans and the absence of a prime minister.

Rights groups have also pointed out that several MPs and business leaders have been arrested for a variety of charges, including some old ones who were reactivated after their immunity was lifted. One of the detained MPs told Reuters on Wednesday that he had been released.

Following criticism of the reported widespread use of travel bans on people in the political and business elite, Saied said last week that only people facing a court order or lawsuit would be stopped from leaving Tunisia. The first protest against Saied since his intervention took place on Saturday, and activists have called for a larger one this weekend.

In another development, the Hope and Action Movement said on Wednesday that its deputy, Yassine Ayari, had been released from the Mornaguia prison in the capital after his arrest on July 30 for insulting the military, which he denied. In addition, the National Committee for Left Fighters and the Voice of Human Society asked civil society organizations Saied during a press conference on Wednesday to apologize to the victims of tyranny during the pre-2011 revolution.

“The President of the Republic is obliged to apologize to the victims of tyranny” and compensate them, said Makram Al-Hajri, spokesman for the committee. According to the Anadolu Agency (AA), he said the president should issue “a direct and binding response to us promising to implement all the results of the regulators.”

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