Tuesday, December 14, 2021
Read the event transcript.
On December 14, POMED hosted a virtual event to discuss Tunisia’s political landscape since President Kaïs Saïed’s July 25 power grab and whether democracy can be restored. The first panel featured Amine Ghali of the Kawakibi Democracy Transition Center, Amna Guellali of Amnesty International, and Monica Marks of New York University Abu Dhabi. In the second panel, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) spoke about how the United States should respond to Tunisia’s potential slide toward autocracy.
Below are highlights from each speaker’s remarks.
- Regarding President Kaïs Saïed’s “roadmap” announced on December 13, we are not sure that we want a full reform of the constitution. We are against the very loose timeline; we do not want an additional year of uncertainty. I am not sure Tunisians will accept Saïed’s ideas.
- Saïed is taking Tunisia to a new system, one that has never been discussed with the Tunisian people. It is something between a regular democracy and the direct democracy of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
- Improvement of the economic situation is what Tunisians hope for the most. Today the economy, not democracy, is the only thing mobilizing the Tunisian street. In the new year, we may see fresh economic protests and questioning of Saïed’s legitimacy.
- Going back to the chaotic pre-July 25 parliament is unrealistic, but we should return to a parliamentary system.
- We cannot wait another 12 months without a parliament or under one-man leadership. During these 12 months of Saïed’s roadmap, some form of authoritarianism may become entrenched.
- The concentration of power in Saïed’s hands creates an environment conducive to rights abuses. And his rhetoric and actions undermine the very meaning of the rule of law.
- Saïed rejects the political class and all civil actors through demonizing rhetoric, calling his opponents and anyone who doesn’t agree with his views “traitors” or corrupt people.
- Saïed has succeeded in dividing civil society in an unprecedented way, resulting in a lack of strong opposition to his gradual erosion of the rule of law.
- It is deeply concerning that part of civil society has espoused Saïed’s sovereigntist and nationalistic rhetoric and issued statements almost paralleling Saïed’s discourse.
- We need to focus on economic and social rights. We need to find solutions for the deteriorating state of the economy. But what the president is doing is totally the opposite.
- Tunisia is no longer a democracy: Since July 25 it has been operating as a totally extra-constitutional dictatorship. Saïed, through his roadmap, is buying more time to entrench an authoritarian system. It’s not even an enlightened authoritarian system. This is a person who has no vision. There has been zero consultation.
- In 2013, the National Dialogue Quartet was brought together largely by their desire to get Ennahda out of power. A similarly unifying desire against Saïed’s power grab/coup does not exist.
- What could help forge a cross-ideological opposition coalition? Rached Ghannouchi could do more to defend parliament as an institution and signal his readiness to step down from Ennahda’s leadership. Political parties could communicate to the Tunisian public, “We heard you, we understand that there was a lot of paralysis before. And we have some kind of inspiring vision to move forward.”
- Anybody following Turkey’s economic crisis knows that it can be very dangerous when you leave all of the reins of power in the hands of one individual who has unchecked power.
- One way forward out of autocracy would be mass protest on a similar scale to what we saw in the 2011 revolution. But that scenario appears unlikely right now.
Sen. Chris Murphy:
- U.S. democracy is under threat. When democracy is under threat anywhere, it’s under threat everywhere. We have an obligation as a fragile democracy ourselves to try to protect those that are under siege, as in Tunisia.
- The United States cannot fund attacks on democracy. Given the fact that the military was used in Tunisia to disband the parliament and that military courts have been used to prosecute civilians, it’s clear that for the time being the United States needs to reconsider its support for the Tunisian military. Given the military’s participation in and complicity with this hopefully temporary suspension of democracy, I support, and advocated for, the decision made by the Senate Appropriations Committee to withhold an earmark, for now, for the Tunisian military in this upcoming appropriations budget.
- Saïed’s roadmap is frustratingly incomplete and far too long when it comes to the question of when democracy will be restored. It’s also concerning that there was no broad public consultation about the roadmap.
- Let’s spend the next several months arguing for Saïed’s roadmap to be expedited.
- Saïed’s announcement about trials against corrupt actors is worrying. It is important that these trials are transparent, in accordance with the rule of law, and happen in civilian—not military—courts.