Following an emergency meeting at his palace on Sunday night, President Kais Saied announced his decision to sack prime minister Hichem Mechichi and suspend parliament, promising to ‘save’ the country with the help of a new PM.
“We have taken these decisions… until social peace returns to Tunisia and until we save the state,” Saied said in a televised address.
Hundreds of people celebrated the drastic move, cheering, honking and singing, as military vehicles surrounded the parliament building and the state television HQ, according to witnesses and videos shared on social media.
The parliament speaker and leader of the Muslim Brotherhood-inspired ‘moderate’ Islamist Ennahda party, Rached Ghannouchi, has defied the order but was blocked from entering the parliament. Ghannouchi denounced Saied’s move as “a coup against the revolution and constitution,” in a phone call to Reuters, and called for street protests in a video message to supporters.
Saied, however, warned his opponents against unleashing street violence, saying that the military won’t hesitate to use guns to quell the unrest if it turns deadly.
Under the constitution, Tunisian president is only directly responsible for military affairs and foreign relations, but last week he put the army in charge of the Covid-19 pandemic response – after PM Mechichi sacked the health minister, blaming him for the collapse of the country’s healthcare system.
Praised as the cradle of the Arab Spring, Tunisia adopted a new constitution in 2014, but it still has no constitutional court to settle disputes, and consistently fails to form a stable government. President Saied and the parliament were both elected by popular votes in 2019, while Mechichi took office last year. Ghannouchi’s Ennahda, banned before the revolution, has since become the dominant force in parliament, locked in a constant political rivalry with the president and the PM.
Angered by the ‘dysfunctional’ political system, thousands of protesters, not openly backed by any of the major political parties, once again rallied in Tunis and other cities on Sunday. Some of the protest erupted in clashes, while the mob tried to storm the Ennahda party offices, forcing police to deploy tear gas – and apparently prompting Saied to take his radical step.
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