By James Moules
MEMBERS of the UK’s legislature are urging for a defence of Tunisia’s democratic gains in the wake of President Kais Saied’s suspension of his country’s parliament.
The Tunisian president froze the nation’s democratically elected body for 30 days and assumed executive power on July 25, 2021 amidst mass protests and domestic crises – including the Covid-19 pandemic.
While many Tunisians approved of Saied’s move, his political opponents have labelled his actions as a coup. However, the president insists that his actions are constitutional.
Tunisia has often been hailed as the Arab Spring’s biggest success story, with democratic elections for both a parliament and president being held on several occasions throughout the 2010s.
In response, several political figures across the globe have voiced support for democracy in Tunisia and expressed concern at the developments.
UK Labour’s Wayne David, Shadow Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, told Redaction Report: “The situation in Tunisia is very worrying. The actions of the President, which include the sacking of the Prime Minister and the “freezing” of Parliament, threaten the county’s transition towards a genuine democracy.
“The international community must demand a resolution to the crisis based on democratic principles and the Tunisian constitution. Dialogue and consensus are needed more than ever before.
“It is important that the UK is a steadfast advocate for democracy in the region and a consistent supporter of the rights of the Tunisian people”.
Kais Saied was elected President of Tunisia in 2019, winning the second round runoff with 72.71 per cent of the vote over Nabil Karoui.
A former law professor with no prior political experience, Saied stood on a staunch law and order platform in the poll.
The election was brought forward by two months due to the death of the previously elected president Beji Caid Essebsi.
Former UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was among the voices speaking out in solidarity with Tunisian democracy.
He tweeted: “Events in Tunisia have all the hallmarks of a coup and an assault on the democratic gains of the past decade.
“Full solidarity with those defending democratic rights and freedoms – and support for the restoration of the elected parliament and an end to the crackdown.”
The Tunisian revolution of 2010-11 was widely seen as the starting moment of the Arab Spring – a wave of uprisings against repressive regimes across the Arab World.
The decades-long incumbent President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown in the revolution, leading to a relatively steady transition to democracy.
According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index, Tunisia is the only democratic state in the Arab World.
Amnesty International has also voiced worry at the situation in Tunisia, fearing that human rights including freedom of expression and peaceful assembly could be under threat.
Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director, said: “The hard-won freedoms and human rights gains of Tunisia’s 2011 uprising are at risk.
“The concentration of powers in the hands of the executive branch is alarming.
“President Kais Saied must ensure that any acts he orders are strictly in line with Tunisia’s obligations under international human rights law, and most importantly must refrain from political purges.”
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office was contacted for comment.
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