Factbox-Reactions to Tunisia’s democratic crisis

Tunisian President Kais Saied on Sunday sacked the prime minister and froze the activities of the parliament, leading his opponents to accuse him of a coup. This is a selection of what significant players in and outside Tunisia, where regional opinion was often split between states that are friendly or hostile to lslamist ideology, had to say.

THE PRESIDENT Saied said his actions were in line with the constitution, a response to “hypocrisy, treachery and robbery of the rights of the people” by the political class and denied conducting a coup. He warned that violent opposition would be met “with bullets”.

PARLIAMENT

Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, head of
the moderate Islamist Ennahda party which is
the biggest in parliament, called the move a coup and urged Tunisians to come onto the streets against it. “Kais Saied is dragging the country into catastrophe,” he told Turkish television. The next three largest parties, Heart of Tunisia, Attayar and Karama also rejected the move as a coup.

Chaab, with 15 of the 217 seats, was the largest
party to back Saied, saying it had “corrected the revolutionary path”. Abir Moussis Free Destourian Party, which opposed the 2011 revolution and gained in opinion polls this year, has not commented.

THE OUSTED GOVERNMENT

Neither Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi nor any
of his cabinet have publicly commented on
Saied’s move. Mechichi has not been seen in
public since the announcement but security
sources said he is at home and not under arrest.
Saied has said he will also replace the justice
and defence ministers. He has not said whether
the other cabinet members will remain.

THE POWERFUL UNION

The UGTT labour union, with a million members
and a previous role in helping defuse moments
of political crisis, avoided directly criticising
Saied after its leader met him on Monday.
It said Saied must move on from the
extraordinary measures named in the
constitution quickly and put in place a clear road
map to allay fears of an assault on democracy.

OTHER TUNISIAN FIGURES

Former President Moncef Marzouki, who helped
oversee the transition to democracy, said Saied’s
move was a coup. He said Tunisians might hope
it was the way out of a political crisis but he
feared it was the start of a slope “into an even
worse situation”.

NORTH AFRICA

Saied spoke by phone to Algerian President
Abdelmadjid Tebboune but there was no word
about their discussion.
In Egypt, where the government has suppressed
the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement long seen
as backing Ennahda, there was no official
reaction but state media presented Saied’s move
as part of a battle against the “terrorist
Brotherhood organisation”.
Neighbouring Libya is itself torn between rival
factions. Commander Khalifa Haftar in eastern
Libya, who presents himself as a scourge of
Islamists, welcomed Saied’s move. A member of
the Tripoli-based government, which includes
some Islamists, voiced concern.

MIDDLE EAST

Ennahda has seen Turkey’s President Tayyip
Erdogan as an ally for decades. The ruling AK
party’s spokesman Omer Celik said on Twitter
Saied’s moves amounted to a coup. Official Gulf reaction was largely muted, though Bahrain, which often moves in political lockstep with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both sworn enemies of the Muslim Brotherhood, voiced “hope for brotherly Tunisia to achieve good and development for greater stability and prosperity”.

WESTERN DEMOCRACIES

The United States and Western European
countries have lavished praise on Tunisia for years for adopting democracy. They were largely slow to respond on Monday to Saied’s moves and appeared unsure whether to condemn or endorse them. The European Union urged all political actors in Tunisia to respect the country’s constitution and avoid violence.

A spokesperson for the German Foreign Office
said the suspension of parliament was based on
a “a rather broad interpretation of the
constitution”. Expressing concern about
developments, the spokesperson noted Tunisia’s
“good, impressive progress” showing that
democracy had taken root since 2011. “We do not want to call it a coup,’ the spokesperson said in response to a journalist’s question. “We will certainly seek talks with the Tunisian ambassador in Berlin.”

The U.S. said on Monday it was concerned about developments in Tunisia and urged calm but had not determined whether a coup had taken place. France called for respect of the rule of law in Tunisia as quickly as possible and called on all political parties to refrain from violence. Both statements came more than 20 hours after Saied’s decree.

European Parliament President David Sassoli, on
Twitter, said: “We call upon all parties in Tunisia to restore order and return to dialogue. The fight against the pandemic, and the interests of the people, should be the focus of all political action”

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