On Sunday, 25 July 2021, Tunisia’s President Kais Saied dismissed the country’s government and suspended parliament. The announcement came after nationwide violent protests over the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the state of the country’s economy. The president announced that he would assume executive authority with a new prime minister.
Protesters this weekend were demanding the removal of the government in response to a spike in COVID-19 cases. Video footage was widely circulated of Tunisians holding slogans against Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, with many shouting and calling for the dissolution of Parliament. Clashes and stone throwing were also reported.
The unrest was not unique, Tunisians have taken to the streets a number of times this year. In addition to protests over the weekend, demonstrations over the country’s situation have been recurring for months, with over 1,000 arrests and one death between January and March 2021.
The move was largely initially welcomed by crowds in the country’s capital, Tunis. Much of the recent anger and unrest in Tunisia had focused on the Ennahdha party, the biggest in parliament. This made the president’s announcement popular, with Saied even joining many of those celebrating on Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the same focal point of the 2011 revolution. With the recent political deadlock, many will be hoping that some sort of action can occur to attempt to tackle the country’s woes.
However, despite the initial apparent jubilation on the street, opponents of the president have condemned the announcement as an attack on democracy. Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi called on regular Tunisians to take to the streets to stop what he is calling a coup, with opponents adding it breaches the constitution.
The president has warned against violence, stating that “whoever shoots a bullet, the armed forces will respond with bullets”. Tunisia’s border security has also been tightened, with reports of a ban on travel for politicians.
SOLACE GLOBAL COMMENT
It remains unclear what will happen going forward with concerns of further violence and the possibility of a democratic backslide. The political crisis is the biggest challenge facing Tunisia since the Arab Spring, which started in the country, and its subsequent democratisation in 2011. The country had been the unique success story from the Arab Spring.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the poor economic situation in the country. This has led to thousands being left unemployed with no prospects. Indeed, in 2020, the country’s unemployment rate stood at 16.6 percent, with youth unemployment at 36 percent, higher than it was during the reign of President Ben Ali.
The removal of the prime minister and parliament will not immediately solve this crisis. Many will, instead, hope that a political decision can now be made effectively, avoiding the repeated stalemate from disagreements between the president, PM and parliament.
However, there are also concerns that unrest could now escalate. Supporters of the largest party in parliament, Ennahda, and other parties opposed to the president have already taken to the street in protest of the announcement. Clashes were reported on Monday in Tunis outside the parliament building, which had been cordoned off by the military.
Going forward, many are looking to where the army stands and what moves they make. During the unrest in 2011, the army stood with protesters against the police and police violence. This has given the country’s armed forces a lot of respect among the general populace.
There will also be the concern of a democratic regression in the country. The bending of the constitution by the president will remind many of former President Ben Ali. While those in country, and in the region, will not be wanting to slide back into a dictatorship, many on the streets will be hoping that something, anything, can improve their prospects.
SOLACE GLOBAL ADVICE
- If currently in the country, especially the capital, minimise all travel and remain indoors in a secure location.
- If carrying out necessary travel, allow for additional time to complete journeys due to the potential for delays.
- Avoid all political and governmental buildings in Tunis due to the likelihood of unrest and clashes.
- Monitor for protests and other scenes of unrest, avoiding these areas.
- Ensure that you carry personal identification documents at all times. Consider making photocopies of important documents in case of confiscation, theft or loss.
- Anticipate a heightened military presence throughout the country with additional security being reported near all major political and media buildings.
- Exercise vigilance and follow all official directives.
- Continue to adhere to all COVID-19 restrictions and rules.
- It is advised that those in country or with an interest in the country review and update escalation and evacuation plans for Tunisia, ensure staff members are aware of what protocols to follow in the event there is major deterioration in the security environment.
- Travellers should have a grab bag packed and ready, said bag should be carried whenever leaving your residence.
- Travellers should follow local media and use the Solace Secure app to stay up to date with security-related events including potential protests, clashes or additional military deployments.